Gifted Student’s ‘Burnout’


Ashley Edwards

As a result of gifted programs in elementary school, highschool and even college students struggle to live up to what they have been labeled. Gifted students were assessed as early as kindergarten in order to put them into more advanced classes to help them learn at a faster pace.

By Ashley Edwards, Ola High School

For some students, their earliest memories of elementary school are comprised of leaving their classrooms for an hour a few times a week to visit their ‘gifted’ classes. As early as kindergarten, they are told that they are ‘advanced’ and put onto a different track of curriculum to better suit their pace. Although it has granted a way for students to learn at an accelerated rate, for the majority of students, the label ‘gifted’ left them with unattainable expectations for their future or “burning out” upon arriving to highschool.

Programs like SAGE (Students in Academically Gifted Education) or TAG (Talented and Gifted) select their students with an aptitude test that assesses their creativity and intelligence. The intention of gifted programs like these is to nurture advanced children at a young age to aid them in reaching their full potential as adults. 

According to the National Association for Gifted Children, when students are bored because they are learning material faster than their peers, it can cause unhealthy work habits and low achievement. However, many students report feeling like this as a result of the gifted program. Not meeting the expectations of their overly-excited teachers from elementary school had negative effects.

“I [came] into AP Human Geography last year and I [got] like a 45 on my first test, so it was a big change. And I was used to not having to work for anything, because I was always told I was above everybody else,” Dylan Barfield, sophomore, said.

Like Barfield, many students share a similar sentiment of ‘academic burnout’: the  stress associated with the inability to meet constant demands. Most students who were formerly in these gifted programs have a culture shock when coming to highschool.

“When you’re in high school your work ethic has to match the amount of work that you take. So I take an AP class and all honors, and in middle school and elementary school I was used to just doing nothing and not having to try and getting 100’s,” Barfield said.

For many, these programs have also caused perfectionism that sometimes leads to procrastination. Students like Emily Freeman, sophomore, are nervous about starting new projects or trying new things in fear of not succeeding the first time.

“I’ve stayed up late a lot just to get [schoolwork] perfect… I don’t want to mess up,” Freeman said.

The effects of the gifted program did not cease in highschool, however. Because students are told they are exceptional at such a young age, many students fail to develop effective studying habits. Although thankful for the opportunities it has given her to further her education, Haley Crigler, Ola High alumna and now nursing major at Mercer University, struggled with the necessity to study.

I’ve stayed up late a lot just to get [schoolwork] perfect… I don’t want to mess up”

— Emily Freeman

“It was really hard to find the study habits that worked best for me. In college, even the smartest of the smartest have to study for hours a day,” Crigler said.

Most students agree that if the program was built to suit each student personally, it would have been more effective.

“It’s not individualized at all and regular study habits aren’t encouraged. Overall, it’s a good thing to have in place, but it needs some work for sure,” Crigler said.

The majority of former gifted students continuously struggle with not living up to the expectations from their elementary years. For Grace Sullivan, a freshman at the University of North Carolina, her sophomore year of highschool burnt her out and college stunned her.

“Going to college after 14 years of saying you’re “gifted” is a big wake up call and you still feel this immense pressure to live up to the word,” Sullivan said.

While most students agree that the premises of the gifted program are helpful, they also feel that something must change in order to meet their full potential and not simply ‘burnout’. 

“I think people that are supporting you, if your parents and teachers take it the wrong way, then you can take it the wrong way and then maybe think that you don’t have to work for anything. That’s how it affected me,” Barfield said.

Learning how to deal with this feeling of failure is a long journey. Many students feel as though they drown in impossible expectations daily due to a label they received as young as five years old, but all hope is not lost.

This story was originally published on Hoof Print on September 29, 2019.