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Finding My Passion: To Be Young, Gifted, and Black

Welcome to our new blogspace, We’re Psyched!the purpose of this space is for undergraduates, graduate students and post-docs to share engaging topics surrounding new research, current social issues and timely thinkpieces related to women of color in the field. This post falls under the “Finding My Passion” theme of the blog series.

By Sarah L. Cooke, MEd (School Psychology Doctoral Student, Howard University)

While attending a public-school deemed a “School of Excellence,” I was initially identified as gifted in the third-grade.  After scoring in the 99th percentile on the Iowa Test of Basic Skills (ITBS), which is a national standardized test, I was referred for gifted testing and subsequently placed in the gifted program at my school.  I was the only Black student in the program, and always felt as if I did not quite belong in the program.  Being “smart” came naturally for me, and it was something my parents, teachers, and even I recognized at a young age; however, being in this environment was a bit intimidating and created feelings of competition, a fear of failure, and a desire to be perfect.

Although, I questioned my belonging and my social and emotional needs began to change. As a result of participating in the gifted program, I have since realized that my feelings were not unique.  The fact that I was the only Black gifted student in the program speaks to the broader aspect of underrepresentation of certain populations of students.  These special populations of gifted children include, but are not limited to, children who are from cultural, linguistic, low-income and ethnically diverse backgrounds (NAGC, 2011).

Research shows that Black and Latino students are far less likely than their White and Asian peers to be assigned to gifted programs.   According to the U.S. Department of Education, the likelihood of getting assigned to such programs is 66% lower for Black students and 47% lower for Latino students (NCES, 2012).  These statistics are alarming and quite frankly disappointing because gifted students benefit from educational programs aimed to meet their needs and develop their talents, and this indicates that there are certain populations of students whose needs are not being met.

The socioemotional issues that I experienced in my gifted program was also more common than I realized.  Research shows that these underrepresented populations are at higher risk for socioemotional issues than White and Asian populations (Stormont et al., 2001).  In fact, there is an alarming rate of Black students choosing not to participate in gifted programs because of negative peer pressures and racial identity status (Grantham, 2004). Other socioemotional aspects may include heightened awareness, anxiety, perfectionism, stress, issues with peer relationships, and concerns with identity and fit (NAGC, 2014).

Currently, as a PhD student in school psychology, I have found my passion for advocating for diversity in learning as well as promoting relevant and accessible services for all students, particularly gifted students.  Even in research of this population, there seems to be a lack of research surrounding different aspects including definitions of giftedness, identification, and servicing the population.  My personal experiences have helped to develop my passion for determining the services which are most appropriate for this population.  This has proven to be challenging; however, as I pursue a career in psychology, I will continue to support and address the learning needs of all students, including students who are gifted and from underrepresented populations.


Grantham, Tarek C. (2004).  Multicultural mentoring to increase Black male          representation in gifted programs.  Gifted Child Quarterly, 48, 232-245.

National Association for Gifted Children. (2014). Definitions of giftedness. Retrieved from

National Center for Education Statistics. (2012). Digest of Education Statistics.  Retrieved from

Stormont, M., Stebbins, M. S., & Holliday, G. (2001). Characteristics and educational support needs of underrepresented gifted adolescents. Psychology in the Schools, 38, 413. doi: 10.1002/pits.1030


Sarah Cooke is a third-year doctoral student in the School Psychology program at Howard University. She received a Master of Education from Howard University and a bachelor’s degree in Psychology from Georgia State University. Sarah is currently a member of the National Association of School Psychologists (NASP), American Psychological Association (APA) Division 16 and National Association of Gifted Children (NAGC). Her research interests include culturally responsive gifted assessment and intervention, advocacy for state-mandated gifted programs and underrepresentation of minorities in gifted education programs. A future goal is to practice as a school psychologist assisting in the understanding of students’ unique strengths and needs while providing effective and culturally appropriate prevention and intervention services.

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