Education Opinion

Happy Birthday, AGATE!

By Tamara Fisher — March 03, 2010 5 min read
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A few days ago, February 28th, 2010, marked the 30th anniversary of the establishment of the Montana Association for Gifted and Talented Education. In February of 1980, sixty-two individuals from each of the far-reaching corners of Montana (including the lady who at the time was my 1st grade GT teacher!) officially chartered my state’s gifted organization. Thanks to their foresight, hard work, and commitment to Montana’s gifted youth, AGATE became a valid and lasting reality. While the past 30 years have seen countless changes in education, from chalkboards to whiteboards to SMARTboards, AGATE’s mission to help Montana provide an appropriate educational environment for gifted students and to promote public awareness of the needs of gifted children remains as strong as ever.

Speaking as current President of Montana AGATE, and reflecting in this moment on my gratitude to those 62 pioneers for creating AGATE back when I was a wee little thing, my mind also ponders those of you who live in places where there currently is no such group formed with the mission of advocating for gifted students. Or maybe you have a state-level organization, but see the need for something regional or county-wide or local. Perhaps you live in another country that doesn’t have its own national gifted association, like our NAGC here in America. Is there a part of you that wishes your location had its own gifted assocation, too? Do you feel alone in your advocacy for gifted children and pine for the day when others around you can learn about and be passionate about gifted education? Does the absence of a gifted assocation where you live strike you as a glaring omission? Okay, then. I write today with the hope of encouraging you to become a gifted education advocacy pioneer in your own locale. Perhaps today is the day to take that first step towards creating and founding what you know is missing. Here is some inspiration:

In light of AGATE’s birthday, I interviewed a few of the individuals who have been a part of gifted education in Montana for these 30 years. I have no doubt that many of you out there can relate even today with their experience...

“Fifteen years into my career teaching high school English was getting same-o, same-o when I learned about the formation of AGATE and went to the first meeting. What a revelation! My concerns about so many of my students dropping out of high school before graduation, seeming inattentive and bored in classes, exhibiting anger or wonderment at the school system that was failing them all were answered by the information I got that weekend from the speakers and teachers involved in gifted education outside Montana. I got back to the classroom with re-newed energy and inspiration and literally started my career over in a different direction. I pushed for and helped initiate a gifted program in our local elementary and middle schools, and with the help of some gifted students, and two teachers, started an Independent Study class for gifted in the high school. I continued to research techniques to help gifted in all the classes, and it changed me and my students in a myriad of ways over the next decades. I have attended and presented at almost all the AGATE conferences since then, and will be forever grateful for the organization that is so valuable to Montana teachers! I am sure that AGATE will continue to grow and provide new opportunities for both gifted children and their teachers for many years to come.” Shirley Olson, AGATE founding member

And from another...

“A small group of people became interested in students who were quite talented in various academic areas. I remember the feeling of being with people who shared the same passion and finally I found myself not having to work so hard to explain my concerns regarding academic rigor. Everyone had stories to share so the organization felt like home. AGATE has grown to be a voice for gifted students in the state of
Montana. I do believe that people turn to this group for assistance. We have provided leadership and training opportunities, while trying to deal with the myths and realities of servicing and programming opportunities for advanced learners. AGATE serves as a voice for gifted students when political organizations or governmental agencies cannot, and of course we all know what a group of caring, committed individuals can do in shaping the way gifted students are perceived and in advocating for services. AGATE and NAGC are like home to me. My passion has always been with advocating for these students, and Montana AGATE and NAGC have provided opportunities for me to release my voice and see my work as meaningful. I have been fortunate to love the very thing that I call a career and these two organizations and the school district in which I was a teacher have provided the means to carry out what I truly believe I have the passion for.”
Jann Leppien, AGATE founding member

You can relate to what they have to say, can’t you? I know you’re out there, scattered in various locations, feeling isolated in your passion for gifted education, wishing you had others around you to band together with to be able to do something more significant for the gifted children where you live. You’re not alone. Heck, if it was possible to round up 62 people across the 147,046 square miles of Montana in the late ‘70’s, then there are bound to be others wherever you live. It is so possible, and you can be a pioneer, too.

What to do?

* Find others who share your passion for gifted education.
* Seek info on what your local, state, or national government says about the formation of a non-profit organziation.
* Have a few organizing meetings to find your direction.
* Set goals and write a mission statement.
* Make it official!

It is such an honor to now be a part of AGATE from “the other side of the desk” and to be a part of this organization’s continued growth and commitment to Montana’s gifted youth.

Many heartfelt thanks go to AGATE’s pioneers, as well as to all gifted education advocacy pioneers, whether past or present or future.

Happy Birthday, AGATE!

Feel free to share your own pioneering experiences in the comments section, including any wisdom you want to pass on to others who are on the verge of becoming gifted education advocacy organization pioneers themselves.

The opinions expressed in Unwrapping the Gifted are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.