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MENSA Awards Borland and Wright

James Borland, Associate Professor of Education and Chair of the Department of Curriculum and Teaching, and Dr. Lisa Wright, Director of the Hollingworth Center for the Study and Education of the Gifted, were awarded the 1999-2000 Mensa Award for Excellence in Research.

Mensa awards scholarships, sponsors colloquia, grants research awards, and publishes papers. Of particular interest to Mensa is the study of the intellectually gifted.

The award to Professor Borland and Dr. Wright is for the paper "Economically Disadvantaged Students in a School for the Academically Gifted: A Positivist Inquiry into Individual and Family Adjustments," which was published in the Winter 2000 edition of Gifted Quarterly.

The paper was also coauthored by Rachel Schnur, the Coordinator of the Anderson Program in P.S. 9 in New York City.

The authors write that "The underrepresentation of economically disadvantaged students, especially students who are members of racial and ethnic minorities, has been a persistent problem in the field of gifted education."

They go on to say, "This article reports on the research that attempted to determine which factors contributed to the success and placement in a school of gifted students of five inner-city African-American and Hispanic students identified as potentially gifted through nontraditional means."

"One clear lesson of this investigation," they maintain, is that the potential for academic giftedness can be identified, nurtured, and helped to blossom in all groups and schools in our society."

In an interview, Borland said," The social construct known as giftedness can be found anywhere, not excepting those places people glibly, and unfortunately, label the 'worst schools.' Too often, the label 'gifted child' has been used in an exclusionary manner, to deny opportunities to the many that are made available to the few. And too often this policy of exclusion has, unintentionally in most cases, had racial and socio-economic implications."

Borland clearly states, "Our research shows that the potential for high-level achievement is not limited to children in favored economic circumstances. Given the opportunity, children living in poverty, attending schools where low expectations are an almost palpable reality, can develop the potential that is nascent, or latent, in so many children."

Dr. Wright believes that the MENSA award is a confirmation of the work that both she and Professor Borland have been doing for several years. " I think that this particular paper is a culmination of a lot of years of work with Project Synergy."

Project Synergy was a seven year (1991-98) federally funded grant project co-directed by Borland and Wright, which was designed to develop innovative methods to identify and serve economically disadvantaged gifted children. "We specifically worked with kindergarten children, with three schools in East Harlem and each year we identified a cohort of students and we worked very closely with the students, the parents and the teachers who were serving the students," said Wright.

"This article," Wright said, "represents a follow up of the very first cohort of students that were identified in the very first year of the project. These students are now in their first year of high school. And the five students in this article that were showcased give testimony to the fact that gifted children from economically disadvantaged backgrounds need to be identified through methods other than standardized testing as these children were."

Some of the interventions used by Borland and Wright were curriculum based enrichment activities, weekend skills development, summer enrichment programs, parent and teacher workshops.

"I think that it substantiates that those methods are valid because these kids were subsequently accepted into gifted programs, went to middle school programs that were academically appropriate for them and they succeeded. And had this intervention not occurred, I really think that the schooling of these kids would have looked very different," said Wright.

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