Think they can | NevadaAppeal.com

Think they can

by Maggie O'Neill
Appeal Staff Writer

Bradley Neddenriep listens to Dr. Tom Nickles during a discussion of John Locke at the Think Summer Institute at the University of Nevada, Reno on July 27. BRAD HORN Nevada Appeal

Bradley Neddenriep wants to go.

When a new school opens in fall 2006 at the University of Nevada, Reno, for gifted and talented students, the 13-year-old hopes he’ll be there.

Run by the Davidson Institute, a nonprofit organization with a mission of supporting profoundly gifted students and developing their talents, the school will be free of charge and open to anyone in the state who meets the criteria.

Neddenriep – who has an IQ above 160 – has already found himself challenged by other Davidson Institute programs.

During the past two summers, the Gardnerville teen has taken its three-week THINK camps at UNR. The college-level courses of chemistry, Japanese, philosophy and speech, all of which count as college credit, are the first he’s described with the d-word.

“Yeah, I thought the summer program was very difficult,” he said. “It was definitely different. You had the challenge, you had to pay attention. It was difficult.”

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Bradley is one of few profoundly gifted children across the country. These students with high IQs are one of every 10,000 to 50,000 births, according to Jan Davidson, who founded the institute with her husband, Bob.

“These kids are the ones being left behind,” she said. “These kids get no extra attention in school. They get no extra funding. They have the potential to make our nation stronger.”

At Bradley’s Douglas County middle school, his days are filled with honor and advanced-level classes. Math occurs at Douglas High School.

“I think the (gifted and talented) school sounds like a good opportunity because kids have difficulty finding advanced classes,” he said.

At a gifted and talented school, Bradley would have an individualized learning plan. If his teachers were unable to meet his needs, they would register him in college-level courses and escort him if necessary.

For a teen who already has 18 college credits and is considering a career as a math professor or as a neurologist, advanced classes would put him further on the way.

“We’re thinking about sending him. We’re seriously, seriously thinking about it,” said his mom, Marie Johnson, who was with her son last week in Maryland at a Davidson Institute event. “We don’t know all the particulars. It sounds really exciting. His school is having a hard time meeting his needs.”

OBSTACLES

The main issue for Johnson is transportation. While the THINK summer institute is a residential overnight program at UNR, the full-time school requires transportation from Gardnerville to Reno and back every day. Even a profoundly gifted-and-talented student can’t get a driver’s license ahead of time.

“The hardship might be with the driving,” she said.

The school is open to profoundly gifted students from around the state, which could make it difficult for anyone outside the local area to attend.

The Davidsons, who opened the nonprofit Davidson Institute after retiring from the educational software business, say the new school gives families a reason to move.

“It’s a non-residential school at this point,” Jan said. “Maybe sometime in the future the students will live on campus.”

Who are they?

Since 1999, the Davidsons have been providing money to profoundly gifted and talented children to help them reach their goals. Studies show, Jan said, that some of the children who go unchallenged drop out of school.

“One has to ask what would it be like if they weren’t nurtured?” she said. “When you nurture something it usually grows better.

“When we have stronger plants we don’t neglect them. Why do that with our brightest children? It makes no sense to Bob and I.”

Another program is the Davidson Young Scholars, through which the Davidsons provide financial aid to about 700 children nationwide annually to meet their extracurricular needs.

“”We develop an individual plan to work with their needs,” Jan said. “We look at the whole child. Schooling is a big issue for most of these kids because they aren’t challenged in school because they are very bright.”

The Davidsons also award substantial amounts of money in totals of $50,000, $20,000 and $10,000 each year through their Davidson Fellows for extraordinary accomplishments.

“We’ve been involved in education all of our lives,” Jan said. “We’ve always been interested in helping children learn to their full potential.”

With all the success they had in their business, they wanted to give back.

“The logical field was education,” she said. “We started focusing on very bright kids. The ones that were most needy in that area were the profoundly gifted.”

What type of school is it?

The new school for the gifted and talented is based at the university, has a working relationship with the Nevada Department of Education, and is essentially a public school, but without the funding.

The 2005 Legislature passed SB461, which states that gifted and talented schools must be established at university campuses and operate under a written agreement between the two.

Although in the law the school is deemed “public” and students need to take state proficiencies to graduate, the teachers will be paid out of the Davidson Institute’s pocket.

“They are on their own to get the school started,” said Assemblywoman Bonnie Parnell, D-Carson City., who voted for the legislation. “They will be coming back before the 2007 Legislature to give everyone an update.

“At that point in time, depending on what we’re hearing from them, they would hope to become a regular public school. Even more than receiving (state funds), they really want to be a public school.”

The bill passed 13-7 in the Senate and 41-1 in the Assembly.

“I was really quite supportive (of the bill),” she said. “I think having been a teacher I recognize the need to serve this population.

“It’s a specialized group of students who have needs unlike all the average students and even the gifted and talented students on the lower level. Yes, there really is a need for this.”

Jan describes it as “pie in the sky.” But she’s hoping the Legislature will decide to provide per-pupil funding from the state’s distributive school account.

“It is our understanding they wanted the school to get up and running and then we’ll have some assurance that we’ll get the DSA allocation,” she said.

According to Jan, the gifted and talented school will start off small and eventually work up to 200 students. The school will lease space from the university and have 70 percent of its teaching staff licensed.

The profoundly gifted child

What makes a gifted child profoundly gifted? While giftedness reveals a wide range of abilities, a typical gifted and talented child will have an IQ 15 to 25 points above average.

“Or some kids can even be way above that,” Jan said. “The trouble is that mainly IQ tests stop at 140 or 145. We’re dealing with kids 160 and above.”

Using tests like the Scholastic Achievement Test and American College Tests, IQs are calculated from results for profoundly gifted students.

“There is no program like this in the nation to our knowledge,” Jan said. “I believe this will the first unique school if its kind. Nevada will be leading the nation with this kind of model. I think we’re going to make Nevada very proud.”

n Contact reporter Maggie O’Neill at moneill@nevadaappeal.com or 881-1219.

Information

• For information on The Davidson Institute, see http://www.ditd.org. There is information on all of its programs and information on the school and an application is upcoming.

• For the law on the Internet about the gifted and talented schools legislation, see: http://www.leg.state.nv.us/73rd/Reports/history.cfm?ID=2358