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Business Group Plans Gifted-Children Program

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Washington--A consortium of business leaders last week announced the beginning of a drive to develop one of the nation's "most important but often neglected" resources--gifted and talented students.

"Many bright children are bored in school, turned off," said Frank Ikard, president of the National Business Consortium for the Gifted and Talented, during a press conference here. "It is our intention to see to it that these children receive the extra challenge, the extra learning opportunity they need to become contributing, productive adults."

The business group has received the hearty endorsement of almost three-quarters of the members of Congress and the Reagan Administration, which last week declared the period between May 1, 1983, through April 30, 1984, as the National Year of Voluntarism. Early last week, Vice President George Bush sponsored a reception on behalf of the group at his official home on the grounds of the U.S. Naval Observatory.

The Education Department estimates that 3 to 5 percent of the nation's elementary and secondary students qualify as gifted and talented. According to the consortium, fewer than 40 percent of these students now receive special services, largely as a result of budget reduc-tions at the federal, state, and local levels of government.

Last year, for example, the Education Department abolished its office for the gifted and talented following the Congress' decision in 1981 to include the categorical-grant program for gifted students in the education block-grants program.

The business group plans to spend about $500,000 on the effort during the next year, Mr. Ikard said. Eventually, the cost of the program will rise to $3 million annually, he added.

"There is no constituency to speak for these students, just their frustrated parents," said L. William Seidman, dean of Arizona State University's college of business administration. "Perhaps there is also the feeling that bright kids need no help, they can make it on their own. We know that this is not so."

As evidence, Mr. Seidman cited a study of high-school dropouts that indicated that 11 percent of all high-school dropouts interviewed had I.Q.'s of 110 and above.

"These should have been among the talented college students of their generation, yet they did not qualify for high-school diplomas," Mr. Seidman said. "The reason is all too well known to educators. The child who is not challenged all too often becomes turned off and does not develop his full potential."

Mr. Seidman's assessment was supported by Arlene Morales, a 20-year-old high-school dropout who graduated with honors from Goucher College last year and plans to attend The Johns Hopkins University medical school.

"I had to work hard to take the type of courses I felt comfortable in," Ms. Morales said. "The school was opposed to any sort of change. They said, 'No one has ever done this sort of thing before.' They didn't know what to do with me."

Mathematically Precocious

While in 7th grade, Ms. Morales began taking algebra courses offered through Johns Hopkins' program for mathematically precocious youth. "This caused some trouble with my school administrators," she said. "I pointed out to them that I could get algebra downstairs in our own building. They said that there were no provisions for that and that, as a matter of fact, I would have to supplement any algebra with my regular math class."

"In high school it got worse," she said. After completing the school's mathematics curriculum in the 9th grade, Ms. Morales asked for and received permission to take advanced mathematics courses at a local college. One year later she decided to attend college full time.

"My high school again said they had no provision for that," she said. "They said that I'd flunk out. I still don't have a high-school diploma, but I made Phi Beta Kappa and graduated from Goucher at 19."

Committee of Business Leaders

According to Mr. Ikard, a past president of the American Petroleum Institute, the consortium's first order of business is to establish committees of business leaders during the next two years in each of the 50 states and the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, and the Virgin Islands. He said that the group hopes to have a representative in each of the nation's school districts.

Once this is accomplished, the school-district representatives will conduct surveys in order to determine the number of students identified as gifted in their region, the quality of services that they currently receive, and the ability of the local business community to help them.

According to Jacqueline A. Meers, the consortium's executive director, the business community can help gifted students by providing them with mentors and summer internship programs.

They can help schools by providing them with experts to teach seminars, by donating scientific equipment, and by opening up their facilities to students.

"Business is looking at the bottom line," Ms. Meers said. "Right now it is spending close to $30 billion every year to train and retrain its employees. That's a startling figure."

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