Missouri will soon boost access to its programming for high-achieving and high-ability students. A state law on tap to begin in August 2024 will require Missouri’s public school districts to have a state-approved program, if they have at least 350 students enrolled in their district.

Missouri’s Advisory Council on the Education of Gifted and Talented Children says about 40% of the state’s K-12 public schools have a state-approved gifted education program.

Beth Winton, chair of the council, said this programming is important because these students need more than content support.

“The myth is, ‘Well of course they’re smart and they’ll do just fine and boy, it must be really rough to be so smart at everything.’ But when you are different, for whatever your reasons, that’s hard when you’re nine or 12,” Winton told the Missouri Board of Education.

“Every gifted student I know has depression issues,” said Missouri Board of Education member Kim Bailey, of Raymore.

“I wish that story was less common than it is,” said Winton. “Gifted kids are no picnic to parent. No kid pops out with an instruction manual. Gifted kids can be kind of ornery sometimes. They are sometimes hard to talk around and they present unique challenges. They get in trouble sometimes very creatively. Our job is to let them know that we see them for who and what they are. You love Star Wars or turtles or you know every dinosaur? I’ll talk to you all day about dinosaurs if that’s the way that I can make a connection to help you over here with whatever you’re struggling with. We are not counselors. As you stated, we collaborate with all of the support structures within our districts.”

According to Winton, high school gifted programs are disproportionately absent in rural and smaller Missouri communities.

“Bigger kids, bigger problems. So, their needs get more individualized and more diverse and more necessary as they get older, as they make bigger decisions about their future,” she said.

What will happen with the gifted children in districts with fewer than 350 students?

“We’re hoping that there’s some parental advocacy on that point,” said Winton. “Missouri educators want to serve kids. This is just me hoping, but I would find it very hard to believe that they would identify gifted kids and then just, ‘But we’re not required to serve them, so we’re not going to.’”

Senate Bill 681 does not cover Missouri’s charter schools.

The statewide council will offer a step-by-step guide to districts to help them create a gifted education program.

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