Five-year-old Giavrielle Lightfoot is an accelerated learner.
“We thought something might be different about her because she was reading before she was 3,” says her mother, Genevievette Walker-Lightfoot. “We also thought she may have just memorized books the way little kids do.”
But when her mother read a book to her that she hadn’t read before, the not-yet-3-year-old read it.
At 2, Gia would say, “I need to play the violin.”
“I had taken her to children’s orchestras, and would have her listen to classical music on NPR. Finally I took her to a music store and let her look at a violin, but she kept saying, ‘I want to take it home. I want to take it home.'”
“I thought it was a little precocious giving a 2-year-old a violin,” Walker-Lightfoot says. “I told her she was too little. Even the smallest violin was too big for her. So we came back a year later and picked one out.” Gia was evaluated and soon started the Suzuki method at the Roberson School of Music. (The famous Suzuki method begins music lessons with the youngest children, even before they’re born.)
Gia’s interest wasn’t a passing phase.
“She absolutely loves it,” Walker-Lightfoot says. “We’ve never had to argue with her about practicing. ‘Ode to Joy’ was her Christmas recital number.”
Walker-Lightfoot mentioned testing to her pediatrician, to verify that Gia is a gifted child, “but I wasn’t sure where that would lead.”
Walker-Lightfoot was reluctant because she, her husband, Johnathan, and their only child live in Howard County, Maryland, where children must be 5 by Sept. 1 in order to start school.
That hard and fast rule wouldn’t work for Gia, who was born in December. She was not only already reading, she knew her colors and could count.
“From what I’ve read, if bright children aren’t challenged they can get disruptive–because they’re bored.”
The Lightfoots found an academic-focused Montessori school where youngsters can be taught the kindergarten curriculum if they’re 5 by Dec. 31, as long as they pass their work.
Gia is now thriving in an environment of diverse learners. In a class of 11, five students are East Indian, three are African American, one is biracial, one has a Spanish surname, and one is white.
The Lightfoots intend to keep Gia in Montessori. They plan to transfer her to another school in the network that goes up to grade 5.
Based on the Lightfoots’ actions, several key steps may have helped to bring about their daughter’s positive experience.
- Walker-Lightfoot met with Gia’s teachers early on. “I requested a meeting with the instructors to let them know who my child is, and what our expectations are.”
- She networked to learn the inside scoop. “I join different mommy groups just to get intel, to learn how gifted programs work. I’ve learned how people game the system to get their kids in–their kids are enrolled in Kumon and extra tutoring to score well for gifted–and they know each other and write to the teachers and principal [for preferential placement]. Oftentimes minority parents aren’t a part of those networks, or don’t have access to that information. Or they don’t know that they should be advocating in that way.”
- She follows the “squeaky wheel” philosophy. Although the Lightfoots live in one of the best school districts in the state, Walker-Lightfoot knows that low assumptions are made about minority children. “The thinking is you’re doing great if you’re just on grade level.” She has made up her mind to be what she calls a “pesky parent”–her child’s advocate.
- The Lightfoots do their own research. When the Montessori school told them that children leave their school ready for second grade, she thought that was a nice marketing line–and then called the board of ed. It verified the school’s claims.