ERIC Identifier: ED321498
Publication Date: 1990-00-00
Author: McIntosh, Margaret E. - Greenlaw, M. Jean
ERIC Clearinghouse on Handicapped and Gifted Children Reston VA.
Fostering the Postsecondary Aspirations of Gifted Urban
Minority Students. ERIC Digest #E493.
On a beautiful spring day, as Maria was getting help with a paper she was
writing, she said, "I'm going to hate working inside for the rest of my life."
I laughed and said, "It depends on what kind of job you have whether or not
you have to work inside."
She looked both puzzled and surprised and then responded, "But I'm going to
be a secretary," thus implying that her workdays would be spent indoors.
Stunned, I asked her why on earth she planned to be a secretary. She told me
that her mother had always told her that being a secretary was "the very best
Why was I stunned that this 15-year-old Mexican-American girl planned to be a
secretary? Because she attends a magnet school for gifted adolescents, scores at
the 99th percentile on achievement tests, has an IQ that indicates superior
intelligence, is highly creative, and has extraordinary writing ability.
Is this situation unique? Or is a discrepancy between actual potential and
self-perceived potential common among gifted urban minority youth? Tragically,
it appears to be the norm rather than the exception. Throughout their childhood,
gifted students from middle- to upper-middle-class homes hear an achievement
message, which includes plans for attending a good college or university. Many
of these students have parents who attended college or who at least believe that
a college education is essential in order to better oneself.
On the other hand, gifted students from lower-socioeconomic-status homes
often have a different message communicated to them: Education is not essential
to "making it" in the world. Getting and keeping a "job" is the goal, as opposed
to choosing and being satisfied with the "career" to which
middle-socioeconomic-status students aspire. Going beyond the high school
diploma is generally seen as an unnecessary waste of time and money. Long-range
goals are not a real part of urban minority families' schema; they tend to focus
on the immediate future. The aspiration to achieve by capitalizing on one's
intelligence and creativity is rarely fostered by these families. In fact, even
if it is stimulated elsewhere, it may be suppressed by family pressure.
Gifted students "do not stop being gifted when they turn eighteen" (Daniel,
1985, p. 235), and just as they have needed differentiated attention focused on
their elementary, middle, and high school education, so do they need
differentiated attention focused on their postsecondary experience. If changes
are to be made in the attitudes of gifted urban minority youth so that they seek
the requisite college experiences, changes must be made in the attitudes of
those people who have the most influence over their education. Teachers,
counselors, principals, parents, and the students themselves must become more
attentive to the differential requirements of this population of gifted
students. These suggestions for consciousness-raising presented here are based
on experience gained while working with gifted urban minority students in a
large metropolitan area.
For many gifted urban minority students, their
teachers are the main, and sometimes only, source of encouragement and
information regarding educational opportunities. A teacher's influence is
immeasurable: A single teacher can be the catalyst for ensuring that a bright
youth expands and develops himself or herself by attending college. In order to
be this catalyst, however, the teacher must be aware and take steps toward
fostering the notion that the student can have a better chance to succeed if a
college education is sought and obtained.
First of all, teachers of gifted urban minority youth need to realize that
there is a disparity between their aspirations for these students and the
aspirations of the students themselves. Part of it can be attributed to a
cultural difference, since the ranks of teachers are predominantly filled with
people from middle-class backgrounds. Teachers should be sensitive to
differences, but not judgmental, and should not assume that the students'
background is deficient.
Second, teachers must realize that, as they begin to encourage these able
students to attend college, some defensive attitudes may surface in both
students and parents. Marion pointed out that:
"A major need of black parents of low socioeconomic gifted and talented
children is the maintenance of a normal family-school relationship. This is
often the most difficult hurdle for parents and teachers to overcome, for
giftedness and talentedness are not the necessary 'looked for' virtues in many
low-socioeconomic children." (1981, p. 33)
Defensiveness may manifest itself as students belligerently claim that they
do not even want to go to college ("Who needs it anyway?") or as they
nonchalantly accept material that is offered. Teachers must realize that these
behaviors are often indicative that a student is receiving negative messages
from home concerning college attendance. Continued gentle persuasion must be
offered to such students and their parents.
Close and sensitive contact with parents is one way that teachers can have
the desired influence on bright urban minority students' postsecondary
aspirations. Telephone contacts, letters about upcoming college introductory
events, information about scholarships, and personal conferences are all
recommended for establishing and maintaining a rapport that will be conducive to
parents' acceptance of a young person's going to college.
Just as frequent contact with parents is necessary to inculcate the idea of
college for their children, so too is it necessary for the students to hear the
message. It will take more than a few casual references dropped into
conversations to instill this idea. Teachers must make a deliberate effort to
establish with these students the idea that they should attend college and are
capable of doing so.
In addition to talking directly to students about college, teachers can
invite others to do so. For example, minority adults who have succeeded in
business, education, the arts, or the professions could be invited as guest
speakers. These adults can share with the students how they chose the college or
university they did, how they financed their college education, how long it took
them, what adjustments they had to make in college, and what benefits they have
derived from the college experience.
Teachers can also keep a bulletin board on which they and members of the
class can post newspaper and magazine articles regarding scholarships, grants,
and other opportunities for minority students. Gifted education journals and
newsletters (both state and national) carry such announcements, and the teacher
or selected students could be responsible for monitoring these journals at the
local university or public library.
A final awareness that teachers must have regarding their gifted urban
minority students is the anxiety that many of these students feel regarding
their post-high-school life. Some are the first in their family to finish high
school. This accomplishment alone presents them with choices for which no family
member has set a precedent and affords them opportunities for which they have no
family role model. Others have already determined that they want further
education and are fearful of the battle they anticipate when their parents
become aware of these plans. A portion of these students are apprehensive
regarding their ability to measure up, intellectually and financially, to the
task of college participation. Teachers should make an effort to allay some of
these fears and provide strategies that will enable students to accept and deal
rationally with them.
Because of the void that exists between high
school counseling and college advising (Grites, 1979) and because of the
additional obstacles and pressures that impinge on gifted urban minority
students who attend college, the school counselor's role in preparing gifted
urban minority youth for appropriate postsecondary school education cannot be
underestimated. According to Dunham and Russo, counselors
"are needed to help direct the career education program for the gifted
disadvantaged students. They are also needed for individual counseling to point
out educational and career possibilities for each student. The counselor must be
aware of the needs and obstacles that create problems for these students."
(1983, p. 26)
More than other gifted students, gifted urban minority youth must have strong
guidance in this area. In the recent Carnegie Report on teaching as a
profession, the statement was made that "good counseling is indispensable for
poor and minority youngsters, who often have few others to turn to for advice"
(1986, p. 14). Counselors must take an early and active role in implanting the
idea of college, lining up college recruiters, and obtaining financial aid for
Impressing gifted urban minority students with the importance of attending
college may involve the counselor in designing a career awareness program that
iterates the educational preparations necessary for various career fields. Such
a program should be an ongoing effort that integrates all that the counselor can
determine about student interests, career availability, and community mores.
School counselors traditionally work with college recruiters, but the job
becomes more involved when the recruits are gifted students from urban minority
backgrounds. Counselors can work to raise the consciousness of recruiters
regarding the differing demands of attracting bright urban youth. College
recruiters need to realize that, to a greater extent than with other students,
the parents must also be convinced--not just to send their child to XYZ college,
but to send their child to ANY college.
In working with parents, the question "How much is this going to cost?"
naturally arises. For low-socioeconomic-status parents, the cost of college
tuition, room and board, books, and travel is a burden they cannot bear.
Financial aid must be sought for these students--from the colleges and
universities they will attend, from foundations, from the U.S. government, from
service clubs and organizations, and from private individuals. Laying the
groundwork for this sort of commitment is the most difficult part of the task.
Once organizations and individuals have donated money and have seen the enormous
positive results of their investment, they will continue to give. But the
initial contacts require time and effort.
Even if a student receives a full scholarship, one aspect of college expense
that is not covered by financial aid is the cost of "keeping up with the
Joneses," that is, the cost of fitting in. The culture shock will be severe
enough that the minority urban gifted student's trauma need not be accentuated
by feeling completely out of place due to inappropriate clothing and the lack of
ability to go out and grab a pizza. Counselors soliciting money for this sort of
student support must make a strong case to potential contributors. They may find
that successful minority adults who attended expensive, respected colleges or
universities under a severe financial hardship are inclined to be supportive of
such a worthwhile cause.
Another program that counselors could implement is one that teaches the
social graces. While some would argue that brains, not table manners, will
propel these students to where they want to be, our contention is that lack of
table manners or the inability to respond appropriately in social situations can
hinder bright students from attaining their potential. As Moore has stated, for
gifted disadvantaged students "career education programs need to stress
professional lifestyles, values, ethics, and goals" (1979, p. 20).
Early in gifted students' middle school and high school careers, counselors
should begin to help them become cognizant of the criteria colleges and
universities use in selecting among their applicants. This information can be
obtained from college catalogs, by writing to admissions directors, or from
recruiters. Charts of the criteria used by various schools could be posted in
the counselors' offices, or general recommendations regarding courses taken,
grades, test scores, and participation in extracurricular activities could be
stressed with individual students. This must be done as early as possible so
that students can take the necessary steps to ensure their acceptance by the
college of their choice.
Principals, assistant principals, and deans
of instruction fill many roles, and those in schools that serve urban minority
students function in additional capacities. The gifted members of this urban
population need the administrators as their advocates.
The administrator can serve as advocate for minority urban gifted students in
a number of ways. One way is as a contact person between the school and service
organizations. The administrator of the school is one of the few members of the
faculty who can attend daytime service club luncheons. Since these organizations
are often looking for worthy causes to support, the administrator can inform
them of the financial and personal needs of gifted students and can assure them
of the potential of these students. Members of these organizations may choose to
offer personal support by serving as mentors for one or more students.
Administrators must also recognize the enormous impact that they can have on
these minority gifted students. Middle school and high school administrators who
recognize the uniqueness and potential residing in particular students can make
a special effort to offer personal support and encouragement. A student's life
can be significantly affected by an administrator who takes the time to
recognize achievements, provide solace for failures, and offer challenges for
Administrators who have made their careers in one school district and one
school often maintain contact with former students who have distinguished
themselves in their postsecondary lives. Many of these former students would be
willing to return to the school to visit informally with students or make
presentations to classes or groups of students. Students will often hear what a
person from similar circumstances has to say better than they will hear what a
teacher or other community member says.
An administrator who is supportive of students who have extraordinary
potential will realize that there are instances when certain teachers need extra
time to work with gifted students. They may need time to plan in-depth lessons,
take students on field trips, investigate a source for future reference, or
consult with people who might contribute to the students' knowledge.
Administrators have the latitude to make the necessary arrangements so that
teachers can meet gifted students' learning needs.
Administrators can help rally teachers, counselors, and community members to
a common effort to ensure not only that these bright students are not hindered
in their effort to achieve excellence, but that they are facilitated in that
effort. A principal can remove obstacles and prevent confrontations by smoothing
the way and offering support.
Parents of gifted urban minority students are in a
tough situation, which may result in push-me/pull-me messages being communicated
to their children. On the one hand, parents are proud that their children do
well in school and receive good grades and various honors--and, in fact, do
better than they ever did in school. On the other hand, parents sometimes do not
understand the extent of their gifted child's intelligence and may even be
suspicious of it, possibly fearing that since their child is smart, he or she
may try to be the boss of the house. A confusion of roles often results,
particularly in Mexican-American homes where the children speak English and the
parents do not, thus requiring that the children interact and interpret the
world for their parents.
It is important for parents and children to be aware of the proper roles that
each should play. Parents do need to be in charge of the home, while at the same
time realizing that their children have needs and wants requiring their support
Parental support is also vital for gifted urban minority students while they
are attending college. Based on the recent rash of data concerning "retention"
of bright students in college, Laycock stated that
"One should expect the brightest to do the best, and therefore to finish what
they begin. But SAT scores and class rank, the traditional admissions criteria,
are not fully predictive. More powerful may be family influences related to
expectations, supportiveness, and sense of direction" (1984, p. 91)
Parents need to realize how powerful their influence is and how necessary
their encouragement is. Gifted urban minority students need to know that their
parents are proud of them and that they accept what their sons and daughters are
Parents who have not attended college cannot empathize, but they can try to
listen when their children have concerns about college and their participation
in the college experience. Also, although parents may not realize the specific
value of participating in more of the college experience than just attending
classes, they should allow their children to take advantage of as many
opportunities as are available to them.
Gifted students in general are notorious for
underestimating their ability. Gifted urban minority students are even less
likely to assess their giftedness correctly. It will take a concerted effort
over a period of years to convey to these young people the extent of their
extraordinary ability and potential. They will need to be told, shown, exhorted,
and badgered, time and time again, until they begin to comprehend that they have
more to offer and more to gain, and therefore more to lose, than many of their
A concerted effort will also be necessary to instill the notion that college,
and often graduate school, will be necessary for these highly able students to
obtain the skills and education requisite for pursuing a chosen career. The
difficulty of inculcating this idea into the schema of many of these gifted
urban minority students cannot be underestimated. In many instances, it is a
battle against generations of the belief of inherent inferiority.
These alterations are very likely to cause a change in a gifted minority
student's position in the family. It is possible that the student's status will
increase in the eyes of some family members, while in the eyes of others, the
student will be seen as selling out or running out on family and culture (Gowan,
1960). This sort of mixed message, which includes rejection and guilt, will
undoubtedly be a cause for distress in these able students, who tend to be
highly sensitive (Colangelo & Exum, 1979). Counselors in high school can
help warn students ahead of time about the possible ramifications of college
attendance, or it may be necessary for counselors at colleges and universities
to seek out students coming from impoverished backgrounds to determine whether
or not they need help coping with the changes that are occurring in their family
constellations. In addition, college and university counselors may need to
implement support groups for gifted college freshmen to help them adjust
successfully to college life (Friedlander & Watkins, 1984).
Once gifted urban minority students have recognized the worth in pursuing
postsecondary education, they will need to take an active role in ferreting out
scholarships and grants. They cannot depend on counselors to do this, even
though in many cases, doing so is considered part of the job.
Gifted urban minority youth are fighting a
number of uphill battles. However, the battles they fight and win have many more
far-reaching ramifications than simply developing individual students' minds.
Every time one of these students succeeds, his or her horizons are broadened,
the vistas of his or her family are expanded, the reach of his or her community
is extended, and the nation benefits. We have been considered "a nation at
risk"; we can no longer afford to allow some of our most talented students to
remain in an untenable life situation.
Carnegie Report (1986). EDUCATION WEEK, 5,
Colangelo, N., & Exum, H. (1979). "Educating the culturally diverse
gifted: Implications for teachers, counselors, and parents." G/C/T, 6, 22-23,
Daniel, N. (1985). "School and college: The need for articulation." ROEPER
REVIEW, 7, 235-237.
Dunham, G., & Russo, T. (1983). "Career education for the disadvantaged
gifted: Some thoughts for educators." ROEPER REVIEW, 5, 26-28.
Friedlander, S. R., & Watkins, C. E. (1984). "Facilitating the
development of gifted college students: A support group approach." JOURNAL OF
COLLEGE STUDENT PERSONNEL, 25, 559-560.
Gowan, J. (1960). "The organization of guidance for the gifted." PERSONNEL
AND GUIDANCE JOURNAL, 39, 275-279.
Grites, T. J. (1979). "Between high school counselor and college advisor--A
void." PERSONNEL AND GUIDANCE JOURNAL, 58, 200-204.
Laycock, F. (1984). "Bright students and their adjustment to college."
JOURNAL FOR THE EDUCATION OF THE GIFTED, 8, 83-93.
Marion, R. L. (1981). "Working with parents of the disadvantaged or
culturally different gifted." ROEPER REVIEW, 4, 32-34.
Moore, B. A. (1979). "A model career education program for gifted
disadvantaged students." ROEPER REVIEW, 2, 20-22.
permission from ROEPER REVIEW 9(2), (1986), 104-107.