My Soapbox: Kimberly Clayton-Code, NKU's Institute for Talent Development and Gifted Studies

Kimberly Clayton-Code, Director of the Institute for Talent Development and Gifted Studies at Northern Kentucky University, shared some insights on the program she helped launch five years ago and what it means to be a gifted kid today. Parents, breathe a sigh of relief: It's now hip to be smart.

Q: Tell me a little about NKU’s Institute for Talent Development and Gifted Studies.
A: The Institute was established in 2008 and focuses on providing services and outreach to gifted and talented students, their parents, and teachers.  We have annual outreach programs that reach more than 3,000 students. This includes the ExploreMore Program for students in grades K-8, the Dreamfest Conference for grades 4-8 and the Young Women LEAD Conference, which will be held in October. We will have 700 young women coming to hte Young Women LEAD conference, which is free of charge.

Q: Why is such an Institute important?
A: Working with these children, seeing what they can do and where they can go – I’m just amazed at their level of knowledge and interest and thirst for learning. It’s an important area: These children’s needs are just as diverse as children across the spectrum. They’re a group of students whose needs aren’t always attended to.

Q: What are the challenges you see for gifted students?
A: Finding opportunities matched to their particular gifts and talents, seeking like-minded peers, and social-emotional needs.

Q: One of your Young Women LEAD speakers said she was labeled a nerd in high school and you will have anti-bullying sessions. Do you think it’s still tough to be smart?
A: Absolutely they have to deal with being labeled. They have to deal with that.  There’s that pocket-protector nerdy image you have to deal with. My husband is a high school teacher and he says that it is actually cool to be smart.

Q: Do you think the Steve Jobs, Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerbergs are influencing that shift?  
A: Having them there gives students a role model to strive towards. Unfortunately, those are all white men. It would nice if we had other different faces to hold up as models, too. All three of those men have said (they were involved in) out of school programs or school programs.

Q: You have specific programming, with Young Women LEAD, for high school girls. Do you find that girls need additional out-of-school curriculum? 
A: This conference does a terrific job of connecting high school girls from throughout the region with one another and with prominent business and community leaders.  The attending girls leave the conference with an enthusiasm for reaching their potential and for becoming future leaders of our community.

Q: Why have specific programs aimed at gifted students? 
A: They have unique needs both academically and socially. By allowing them time with other like-minded students, it gives them an opportunity they may not have otherwise. The programs give them the opportunity to explore content at a deeper level than they might have the opportunity for in their regular classrooms.

Q: What can educators and parents do to continually engage their students?  
A: Be supportive and engaged in providing opportunities for their children through their schools and through the community. We live in an area rich with learning opportunities. We are very fortunate to have world-class museums, the zoo, universities and businesses of all sizes and prominence.

Q: What can parents do if they think their child is gifted, but has not tested gifted?
A: Parents need to navigate and advocate for services in the schools. But I think we need to recognize that we need to supplement without a school provision. Again, we live in an area ripe with opportunities – the zoo, the aquarium, museums and universities. There are all kinds of resources, activities. There are all kinds of opportunities.

Q: What’s next for the Institute?
A: I would love to develop a leadership conference for high school boys. We just haven’t been able to find a sponsor to assist with funding for the conference.

Q: What is your long-term hope for the Institute?
A: I would like the Institute to be institutionalized at the university and in the community. I want it to be a resource where students say: ‘I went to programs there.”  I'd like us to really be a resource for the community … We reach 3,000 students a year and I’d like to double that.

Chris Graves is the assistant vice president for digital and social media at the Powers Agency.
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