I was in grade two when I completed testing to see if I was eligible for the gifted program. I don’t recall knowing what the testing was actually for; I was taken away from class for a few hours, read some stories, did some math problems, filled in the scantrons with a proper pencil (but not before the example of how to properly fill those bubbles of course). I also recall being pulled aside after the first round of testing to be told that I did really well and that I would be doing further testing, one on one with some woman.
I honestly don’t know if I was confused or excited or scared. All I know is that I passed and that I entered grade three at a new school, in a new program, and at the earliest possible time I could be put in to the gifted program.
I would say that for the first year I was relatively distant from my classmates. It’s not that I didn’t make friends, I did, but I didn’t necessarily try to make long-lasting bonds (long-lasting in the grade three, lack of loyalty, whim-driven sense). I had few people I wanted to invite to my birthday and I missed my best friend from Woodlands P.S. greatly. As we worked our way through the grades I did have fellow classmates admit to me later that they thought I was quite a stand-offish meany head in those days.
I did eventually grow out of my loner phase and began to form bonds with the people around me. I’m not sure if it was a conscious decision or one based in some knowledge that whether I liked it or not these would be the people I would spend at least the next five years with. With those kids I played horses, made up dances, had sleepovers, got married (it was annuled a couple of grades later, as regular children do in grade school), cried over too much homework, got in trouble for kicking each other (literally), had first dances, first kisses, first suspensions. We struggled through gym class together (maybe two percent of my class was naturally athletic because, well, look, we were gifted and carrying books was our exercise OKAY?! That’s a sterotype, I’m sorry) and also struggled through art class together (again, not really our strong suit for the most part, but we got points for trying). Some of the greatest memories I have from all of my schooling are from those days in the gifted program, learning and growing and discovering with those twenty-six kids – eighteen male, eight female. I might have just made that final tally up – all I know is that there were only eight females and it might have been sixteen males but go with it for my sake, okay?
I’ve met multiple people since leaving that elementary school and entering high school in the regular stream who were tested for the gifted program and did not enter it despite passing. For many of them this was a result of either their parents not wanting to split them up from their classmates or not wanting to subject them to merciless teasing, or both. Until I met these gifted-identified but never program-hardened kids I never knew there were people like them. I assumed that anyone who was gifted would want to be publicly known as such. I never knew it was a choice, really.
The thing is that maybe some of those parents had a point. After all I did spend the first little while at that school relatively by myself. I also was in a school that housed not only us but also the regular curriculum and french immersion, both of which bonded together and were great friends but made it very clear, for the most part, that we did not belong. We were “gifties”, we were nerds, we weren’t their kind. A few of us made friends with those in other streams because we rode the bus together and when you’re ten proximity to others is enough to break social barriers. We participated in the same gossip and had Track and Field Day together (cruel and unusual punishment for most of the gifties, really). Overall, though, we were generally outcasts. We were sometimes teased. We were sometimes excluded. Even after I entered high school some of those divisions still existed although the labels no longer did, evidenced by a boy who had come from the french immersion strain telling a girl who did not go to our elementary school not to share ice cream with me because I was a gifty.
But I was quickly vindicated when she laughed at him for being so ridiculous and shared anyways. Small victories.
It really wasn’t terrible, though. I don’t recall it being all that awful being pigeonholed into the gifty group. It’s possible that some of my other classmates, those that were a little nerdier, a little less social, feel differently about that entire time of our lives. The thing is that despite us being separated and deemed nerds by all those other kids I still made some of the greatest friendships I had ever had at that school. There was a bond in that classroom that I have rarely experienced since those days, a bond bred out of shared interests and all being marked with the same gifted pen. I don’t know if any of us felt as if we were elite or better than our other, non-gifted schoolmates due to intelligence, I know I didn’t. But I did feel elite and better than our other, non-gifted schoolmates due to the connection we all had.
It is possible to be openly labelled as something that puts a huge target on you, even at a young age, and come out of it maybe not completely unscathed but still the better for it. Were there times I wanted to fit in with the cool kids? Sure, of course there were. But sometimes I still feel that way and then I remember that Liberty Village just isn’t my crowd. I think if anything having those first, formative schoolyears spent learning about separation, bullying, labels, and that being different may be bad to others but is still possible to overcome has helped me recognize the difference between wanting to be something because it’s who I really am or because I think I should.
I wouldn’t have traded those elementary school days for anything and I still wouldn’t. I wouldn’t take back any of it. Except maybe that grade seven project we did on The Time Machine by H.G. Wells. I’ll give that one back. It was horrible.
If there are parents out there with a child that is too smart for their own good or failing in school not because they aren’t capable because they are completely, totally, and utterly fucking bored, there are programs and teachers out there who really care that they are different. And they may feel alone for awhile if you move them. They may get bullied. They may even hate you a little for ripping them away from the comfort of monotonous spelling tests they could do in their sleep but one day they’ll thank you. Really, they will.