“Every Child’s Right” — An Insider’s Review

Dear ATDP student, parent or friend,

If you are a student—whether still in high school, college or grad school—you’re surely looking forward to your life ahead, and the possible careers you might engage in given your skills, talents and interests. As you’ve been an ATDP student, I like to think that your experience with us shaped you in some important way, or helped define the path you’re on at present.

If you’re a parent (or maybe a former student who has become a parent of a current ATDP student—yes, enough time has passed that those of us who work at ATDP can see things in generations!) you’ve probably at some point considered your child’s experience with us, seeing how much it benefited her.

It gratifies me immensely to tell you that that story has now been told. It’s from the perspective of ATDP’s longtime director Nina Gabelko, and of a beloved and insightful observer of ATDP for many years, Prof. Lauren Sosniak. Nina and Lauren co-wrote the book on ATDP, and it’s called Every Child’s Right: Academic Talent Development by Choice, not Chance.

Once upon a time, there existed a summer academic program at the Graduate School of Education at Cal called the UC Berkeley Gifted Program. It was an excellent program, designed for students who sought academic challenges beyond what was available at their local middle or high schools. It had just one drawback, in my opinion: its admissions policy was extraordinarily stringent, requiring applicants to take—and do very well in—the SAT (Scholastic Aptitude Test). Naturally, there was a subset of students—so-called GATE or “gifted and talented” students—for whom such an admission process was ideal. This resulted in a program that catered to a very small minority of conventional high achievers.

But something interesting happened at ATDP in the late ’80s that provoked fresh thinking in its professional staff. Via two outreach efforts explicitly aimed at involving students who were not traditionally tagged as “gifted,” we found that there was a whole universe of students whose latent academic talent was neither being recognized, nor addressed. And we at ATDP saw that we were perfectly positioned—as an extra-curricular summer program—to serve such students. Acknowledging the existence of these students was one thing, reaching them quite another; hence, the need to radically change our admissions policies to be more comprehensive and inclusive.

The story of how that happened is what Nina and Lauren tell in their book. The significance of what Drs. Gabelko and Sosniak have done is clear to me, as an interested and (hopefully) clear-eyed observer of the ATDP scene since shortly after its inception: what Nina and Lauren have done is to characterize the critical consequences of that fateful change of direction from the Gifted Program to the Academic Talent Development Program. These consequences resonate to the present day, and also have meaning far beyond today.

It is your story, of course. You will meet students who might remind you of yourself and others whose life experiences have been very different. More broadly, it is not just a story of individual achievement, but of a generic kind of success—that of an institutional program that, quite simply, works. That kind of story may be a lot less flashy than the rags-to-riches story of an individual student, but it is a very important one.

It’s important because we at ATDP believe we have something that works, something that could be a model not just for other summer academic programs, but for education at large. That is, admittedly, a big claim. But we can most certainly back it up with data, with anecdotal evidence, with descriptions of the successful pedagogical practices of teachers who have come back summer after summer to teach at ATDP and, most importantly the experience of 25 years of witnessing students who love to learn, and who found a strong and supportive community of fellow learners, mentors, and teachers in the academic ecosystem of the UC Berkeley ATDP.

Everybody loves a success story. Unabashedly, I can lay claim to the simple fact that ATDP is one such story. But don’t just take my word for it, even as I can lay claim to having been a part of that story from almost the beginning of the program—yes, I’m that old! Take Nina’s and Lauren’s word and read the book for yourself. And then do this after you’ve read it: don’t let it just molder on your bookshelf at home… give it to your favorite school teacher or school counselor or administrator to read!

You see, I personally want to see Nina and Lauren’s book become a subversive tool which visionary educators can use to make change that really matters in the lives of students and schools everywhere (that’s Prof. Sosniak there, in the photo). There are probably a good handful of books out there that can lay claim to such an ambitious goal. But I think that “Every Child’s Right” breaks new ground in significant ways, as it illuminates with great specificity and narrative engagement a path which other academic programs can successfully take.

Think about that really smart schoolmate or friend you had who didn’t have the gift of an ATDP summer. And about how he might have languished or struggled in school, or perhaps later in college; and think about how he might have possibly benefited from the kind of summer academic experience you had with us. It’s not a stretch to imagine that he would have done well, had this door of opportunity been open to him, is it not?

In the end, ATDP is not just an exercise of the imagination. It is a reality, and has been so for a while now. You’ve known that reality, and you know as well as we do that if academic programs like this were to be made universally available to students anywhere, there would be a “trickle-up” effect—a profound change in the way schools function would become a reality. And that is most definitely a good thing.

So, dear ATDP student, parent or friend, we would like you to come with us and be the vanguard for such a sweeping change. Be a Johnny Appleseed as it were, and help us plant elsewhere the idea of a program that works. It is every child’s right, after all, to develop his or her academic talent to the fullest, and we can both dream and work towards a time when that right becomes something that any young person can exercise… be it at a summer program in Berkeley, CA or anywhere else in this world of ours.

~ Lloyd Nebres
ATDP instructor, administrator, mentor

You can purchase ECR at any of these online stores: