Oct 21, 2019 By Team YoungWonks *
Which are the top schools in the US for twice exceptional kids? This blog brings you a comprehensive list. But before we delve into it, let’s take a look at what the term twice exceptional means.
In order to understand this, let’s start by looking at the term gifted. What does it mean to be a gifted child? Broadly speaking, the term covers children who have shown to be bright and have high potential. The Marland report, the first national report on gifted education, includes a widely known definition of giftedness of children. It says that the term ‘gifted and talented,’ when used with regards to students, children or youth, means students, children or youth who give evidence of high achievement capability in areas such as intellectual, creative, artistic, or leadership capacity, or in specific academic fields, and who need services or activities not ordinarily provided by the school in order to fully develop those capabilities.
Meanwhile, twice exceptional (also called 2E or dually exceptional) is the term used to describe a child who is not just exceptionally able, but also has additional learning difficulties or a disability. So it could refer to a gifted child with learning difficulties, physical or emotional disabilities or even someone who is on the autistic spectrum and thus requires teachers who have specific training to accommodate the child’s “twice-exceptional” nature. It is very important for the learning environment of such a child to be able to address the unique needs of such a twice exceptional student.
For instance, consider a student Julie. She’s a bright, insightful and enthusiastic fourth grader who is reading at a 12th-grade level. At the same time, she can’t pass her spelling tests, and writing is a huge struggle. Consider Jack: At 16, he knows everything about the Civil War, writes beautifully, and can talk endlessly about politics. Yet he needs a calculator to help him with even the most basic math. And he couldn’t tie his shoes until he was in seventh grade.
Ideal Resources for 2E Students
As mentioned earlier, 2e kids have both - their challenges (a certain difficulty with executive functioning or with social cognition) and their strengths (where their curiosities and interests lie). So more often than not, parents of such children often have to choose between keeping their children in an environment that will challenge their enormous potential (i.e., rigorous independent school settings) or admitting them to schools where they can receive the support needed to deal with their challenges (i.e., special education settings), but where their gifts and talents are not realized. This is a big problem as it typically has an adverse impact on either or both of the following: the student’s education and psychosocial well-being.
Below then is a list of leading schools across the US that specialise in teaching 2e students. They have been mentioned in alphabetical order:
Arete Academy of Exceptional Education
Based in St Louis Park, Minnesota, the Arete Academy of Exceptional Education was established in 2014 with the goal of creating a supportive and challenging environment for gifted, 2e students; i.e. bright students who learn differently. The school relies on a student-centered learning approach, where teachers create and teach a curriculum as per the student’s strengths and interests thus making the learning personal and relevant for them. Moreover, the classes are typically small ones (of not more than 8 students), thus ensuring individual attention is not compromised upon. There’s also limited homework and flexible grouping which means a 2e student’ asynchronous development is factored in while teaching him/ her. Faculty is also trained to understand and cater to the social and emotional needs of such students. For more information, visit: https://www.areteacademymn.org/
Big Minds Unschool
Located in the San Francisco Bay area, Big Minds is an attachment-based, community focused school designed to give 2e students the time and encouragement required to grow into thoughtful, articulate citizens. The school focuses on socio-emotional development and the resulting cognitive and creative growth. This is achieved by the teachers engaging with the students in a passionate, reciprocal learning process. The academic work is inquiry-based, dynamic, and factors in student interests. Students are free to draw their own schedules as in they get to select their activities, and socialize freely. The students are encouraged to play and exercise their imagination; no student has to compulsorily participate in an activity. The school’s flexible framework is designed to have students explore their passions, solve problems and develop social skills. The coursework counts its success in imbibing among its students qualities such as creative inquiry, research and critical analysis, oral and written communication, pursuit of passions and the ability to have smooth social interactions. For more information, visit: http://www.bigmindsunschool.org/
This California school is a college preparatory school devoted to educating twice-exceptional students in grades 4-12. One division is The Phoenix Program that’s specifically designed for 2e students in grades 4-6 and then there’s the Dav Vinci program that covers students in grades 7-12. Here the students interact with a highly intelligent and patient faculty in what are essentially small classes. Its USP is the Bridges Academy student-centered Multiple Perspectives Model which tackles six highly complex critical educational variables necessary in understanding a child: his / her gifts & talents, interests, family context, developmental asynchrony, social & emotional profiles, and learning differences. Each variable is be understood independently and in relation to the whole; the school’s programming, curriculum design draw heavily from this model. In fact, the school even has the Bridges 2e Center for Research and Professional Development, a research wing that hosts relevant events aimed at understanding and improving education for 2E students. Topics focused on at these events include leadership for 2e-friendly schools, meaningful curriculum and instruction and understanding the complex 2e mind. For more information, visit: https://www.bridges.edu/
An accredited private school providing one-to-one instruction for students in grades 6-12, and tutoring for students in grades 3-12.this institution has 14 campuses in the states of Arizona, Colorado, Michigan, Minnesota, and Washington. And while it caters not just to gifted, 2e students, it certainly has attracted many such students as the school promises a new beginning for students with learning disabilities, attention deficits, emotional issues, health concerns or other special needs. The one-to-one instruction covers the learning styles and needs of each student and those with learning difficulties work with dedicated teachers who have the expertise needed to engage with them. Moreover, the school offers a flexible schedule and mastery-based instruction wherein students do not face the pressure of having to make it to the next level within a stipulated time; instead transitioning to another level is dependent on the student’s grasp of the current level. For more information, visit: https://www.brightmontacademy.com/
FlexSchool is a well-known learning network for gifted and twice exceptional (2e) middle and high school students. Currently, the main campuses are at Berkeley Heights, New Jersey and in New Haven, Connecticut; plus there are new campuses in Bronxville, New York and another one in Bergen County, New Jersey. FlexSchool celebrates students for who and where they are, and supports them as they learn to grow. Short, ability-based discussion classes taught by subject experts help in engaging students in meaningful conversations where high-level questions are addressed. The faculty, taught and supported by learning specialists and mental health professionals, focuses on critical thinking in all areas of learning. For instance, there is a “toolbox” concept dwelling how to learn rather than an “encyclopedia” concept that relies on specific material. Moreover, students are encouraged to study topics that interest them with faculty mentors. FlexSchool is also a safe and fun environment for accelerated students who want to join in instead of standing out. For more information, visit: http://www.flexschool.net/
The NY-based Lang School calls itself an alternative school that provides gifted, and twice exceptional (2e) students from grades 1 through 12 with a child-centered, STEM- and STEAM-driven education shaped by the ethics of the humanities. Here curious young minds get to learn in small classes of no more than 12 students and specially trained educators customize the content and delivery of teaching as per the student’s needs. Its Talent Development program is aimed at encouraging passions, a sense of purpose and commitment among students. Digital fluency and social and emotional integration through collaborative problem-solving are other key takeaways that the school focuses on. For more information, visit: http://thelangschool.org/
The Liberty School
Founded by dyslexic educator Joyce Bilgrave, the aim of the Liberty school is to fuel 2e students’ love of learning, and help them realize their true potential. Based in Durango, Colorado, it calls itself a model school and an ideal resource for dyslexic and gifted education for the entire region. The school primarily serves dyslexic, intellectually gifted and twice-exceptional (both dyslexic and gifted) students in grades one through eight; it has a customized curriculum for each child, not to mention one-on-one instruction, and an unorthodox approach to teaching. This means that the teachers here help students identify their unique educational abilities but they do not just focus on academic achievements; rather their aim is to help students grow emotionally and creatively as well. For more information, visit: https://www.thelibertyschool.org/
The Quad Preparatory School
This New York-based school prides itself on redefining the experience of school for 2e students by offering them an open, inclusive environment that fosters respect for their strengths and differences. Social and emotional integration is key here; students get individual attention and instead of having the student fit in, the staff moulds their teaching around the student’s needs. Their focus lies in giving their students the opportunity (through solo and group activities, and even meditation) to recognize and enhance their strengths even as they pursue their passions and get empathic support while dealing with their challenges. They strongly believe that social and emotional learning expertise lies in clinical practice, and so they work towards lifting up children whose social cognition, anxiety, executive functioning and self-esteem may have taken a hit due to prior school experiences that didn’t factor in their únique needs. For more information, visit: https://www.quadprep.org/
The Winston School
Situated in Del Mar, California, The Winston School is a 2e school founded specifically for students with learning differences. The Winston School recognises that traditional curricula and schedules are not best suited to individual needs of twice exceptional students. Equipped with a faculty trained to teach and counsel 2e students, the school focuses on giving individual attention to each student to maximize their potential. The Winston School helps students perform well in school today, and ready themselves for college or other transitions. However, the training is not limited to the classroom as students are engaged in activities that help them grow academically, socially and emotionally. For more information, visit: https://www.thewinstonschool.org/twice-exceptional-schools/
Based out of Pleasanton, California, Youngwonks is a leading after-school coding program for kids. Founded in 2014, YoungWonks is today a leading name in the field of online teaching and its popularity is only reiterated by its wide student reach that spans beyond the US. What makes YoungWonks deserve a spot on this list of top schools for 2E kids in the US? For starters, YoungWonks offers individual attention to its students with a student-teacher ratio of 1:1. It also believes in self-paced learning and this is particularly crucial for 2E kids whose abilities need to be nurtured in a healthy, positive environment where the student feels no pressure to keep up with anyone else. Moreover, the YoungWonks curriculum has been specially drafted so as to encourage a DIY/ maker culture among its students and the program has adopted the flipped classroom and project-based learning methods. This means that students learn to think critically even as they get the actual experience of putting together a project in class. For more information, visit: https://www.youngwonks.com
*Contributors: Written by Vidya Prabhu; Lead image by: Leonel Cruz