Editor’s note: This article was written by Shalelia J. Dillard, Founder and Executive Director of Student’s Cultivating Dignity (SCD) Enrichment Program. She is a Denver native and a Daniels Fund Scholar who graduated from South High School. She received a bachelor’s degree in Psychology and a minor in Spanish from Hampton University and is completing her Master in Educational Psychology from the University of Northern Colorado.
I spent 11 years as an educator teaching high school math, preschool, and sixth and eighth grade science in public and private schools. During my time I noticed there were many students of color who were gifted learners and were not identified, or, if they were identified, they were the only students of color in those advanced classes.
This reminded me of my own educational journey.
I attended South High School in Denver – one of the most diverse high schools in Denver Public Schools – but while sitting in my A.P. classes I was the only Black female and sometimes only Black student in the class. It left me wondering “where is everyone?”
National research from the Jack Kent Cooke Foundation highlights how well each state is doing with equity in their Gifted & Talented programs and who is missing. In Colorado, 60% of Black students are missing from being identified as gifted and talented, 61% of Indigenous students, 53% Hispanic students, and 46% of West Asian and Islander Pacific are unidentified, with an overidentification of White and East Asian students.
Based on my own experience and armed with research, I founded Students Cultivating Dignity (SCD) Enrichment Program in 2018 to support, recruit and retain BIPOC secondary students with gifted and advanced education. We provide comprehensive and holistic approaches to support the community, schools, school districts, and families in building well-rounded gifted and advanced students to impact the world.
All year long, we support gifted and talented students and their families through school-based programming, community involvement, and mentor development.
Our in-school program is a research-based support and identification program for identified and unidentified BIPOC gifted and talented students. We support schools with identification strategies through a multicultural identification tool, and support students with assembling their portfolio of work to enroll in G&T.
We are currently conducting research to validate our multicultural identification tool to have it be nationally normed and distributed nationally.
Our courses are enriched with ethnic studies, critical skill development, mentor guidance and tutoring, peer-to-peer knowledge sharing, gifted identity development, college readiness, leadership development, and cultural development.
The curriculum also includes presentations from cultural elders, credit unions for financial literacy, college and career organizations, and field trips.
The SCD Enrichment Gifted Summer Camp is a condensed version of our in-school programming offered free of charge. Underrepresented students who are enrolled or interested in IB, AP, magnets, or Gifted & Talented programs entering grades 5 – 12 are eligible to participate.
Students prepare for high school or college led by our college-age mentors. Our curriculum focuses on leadership, critical thinking, and study skills through interactive cultural lessons. We assist in the evaluation of eligibility for advanced courses, invite virtual speakers and performers from cultural organizations, and host a virtual HBCU and Hispanic-serving institution and ethnic studies department college fair.
We support the community through free events and have a goal to find and support as many unidentified gifted and advanced students as possible through our summer camp, gifted student family webinars, and mentor monthly sessions. We aim to share resources and advocacy tips for families of gifted BIPOC students.
In addition, our BIPOC college mentors and staff host in-person and virtual workshops concerning college readiness topics and academic support, designed for middle and high school students.
We are committed to supporting our BIPOC college students as they reach back to support our secondary students. We created modules for our college mentors to participate in to build up their executive functioning skills, adulting, and mentor development skills to be successful adults, students, and mentors.
The Catalyst Bridge Program recruits juniors and seniors from the in-school program and supports them with college readiness skills while also preparing them to mentor secondary students.
It was my experience in the education system that led to my desire to support other students with similar backgrounds to mine and ensure they succeeded despite their circumstances. Through our work, we are proud to support so many families in advocating for their students’ futures as well as help schools find and aid identified and unidentified gifted students through their educational journey to success.