Helping Students Cope Is Part of Summer Strategy

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Durham, N.C.

As Kevin Burel chats with his friends and instructors here in an oak-paneled dining hall, the bubbly, dark-haired, 16-year-old is the picture of an average teenager.

But he credits the Duke University Talent Identification Program with changing his life--more specifically, giving him the confidence and self-esteem to make friends and pursue his ambitions. This fall, he will become junior-class president at Dunwiddie High School in Doraville, Ga., and an intern for the city government in Decatur, Ga. Eventually, he wants to become a lawyer or politician.

Vicki B. Stocking, TIP's director of research, has spent eight years studying the highly gifted students who take part in Duke's summer programs. And she's concluded that Burel is pretty typical of the gifted teenager--far from the stereotype of a social outsider.

From the Southern-literature seminar to physics class, the TIP students on the Duke campus look much like the rest of the country's adolescents this summer. Halter tops, frosty-blue fingernail polish, baggy jeans, and baseball caps flipped backwards are as trendy here as anywhere.

But the students' intellects set them apart--and, for some of them, that can cause problems at a crucial and vulnerable age.

"Sometimes, being really bright makes them too unique," Stocking says. "We know that some of them are isolated, some of them are rejected by peers."

Educators have long agreed that gifted students' talents should be carefully nurtured. Back in 1919, psychologist Lewis M. Terman declared that "the future welfare of the country hinges in no small degree upon the right education of superior children."

Still, researchers say, such students rarely receive enough challenges or emotional nurturing in school. In fact, gifted students often are viewed as being more capable of overcoming adversity than their peers, a perception that Stocking and others are trying to dispel.

Stocking has surveyed the members of each class at Duke for the eight years she's been there--in some cases conducting personal interviews--and she has been surprised by some of the results.

For instance, girls do just as well in the mathematics courses as their male counterparts, and girls are showing an increasing interest in the math and science fields. At the same time, the surveys show, gifted students' interests range far beyond academics.

But Stocking also notes that gifted students do not lead "charmed lives."

"A number of these kids--way more than expected--have suffered extremely stressful situations," she says. The problem is, sometimes they are expected to be able to cope merely because they are such good students.

As a result, TIP staff members at Duke hold frequent seminars on topics such as stress management to help students deal with the intense pressure to succeed that can come from overzealous parents and teachers, and sometimes themselves.

For Burel, the insight that, "yes, there are people just like me," has been the overriding lesson from four summers at Duke.

And that's just what Stocking and the other coordinators want.

"We feel it's our duty to give them skills that they can take with them back to regular school," Stocking says.


Vol. 17, Issue 43, Page 41

Published in Print: August 5, 1998, as Helping Students Cope Is Part of Summer Strategy
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