Projects Challenge Bright Kids

Award-winning poet Paul Zarzyski discusses his creative process with Upper School English students at Episcopal Academy.

For exceptionally bright students thirsty for knowledge, teachers are thinking outside the box. Through innovative approaches, schools have found unique ways to challenge the very bright.

Real World Issues

Donna Donato, the gifted and talented program coordinator at Eastern High School in Voorhees, NJ, says bright students “are usually very sensitive and passionate about global issues. They are able to empathize with underprivileged children and issues related to undeveloped nations.” Combining classroom study with fieldwork gives students a working knowledge of issues such as:

• Homelessness. In the classroom, students learn about the cycle of homelessness, then gain practical knowledge at shelters, soup kitchens and tent cities.

The Asperger Myth

The myth that kids with Asperger syndrome are often “little geniuses” is based on “some outstanding individuals who were specially gifted in certain areas,“ says Dan Hoover, PhD, a psychologist at Norman Broudy and Associates in Wilmington, DE.

“Research shows that there are not disproportionately more children on the autism spectrum in the gifted range,” says Dr. Hoover. “Most children with Asperger syndrome are in the average range intellectually, much like the rest of the population.” 

Kids with Asperger syndrome who are intellectually gifted sometimes face additional challenges. It can be easy to overlook weaknesses, such as difficulty in organizing. “They often don’t ask for help so they look like they have it figured out more often than they do,” says Hoover.

Also, children on the autism spectrum often have strong special interests in which they gain deep knowledge. Yet they might neglect other areas where they are less interested. 

• Helping Kids in Need. Students at Eastern High partner with the Jacaranda School for AIDS orphans in Malawi, Africa. Projects range from videos of Eastern students performing science experiments to the creation and funding of a sports and recreation program for the Jacaranda School.

• International Understanding. In the Model UN program, students represent a country and argue its point of view on issues ranging from women’s rights to microfinances.


Many bright students can easily navigate a computer, but understanding system design and programming elevates their understanding. Cutting-edge technology learning includes:

• Robotics. Through local and national competitions, students learn the design, construction, operation and application of robots, gaining experience in engineering and computer programming.

• Cell phone apps. At Episcopal Academy in Newtown Square, PA, students in music and the visual arts delve into new areas of digital design and music production to
create their own apps.

• Inventions. Contests and grant competitions encourage students to design new inventions. For example, funded by an $8,670 grant from Lemelson-MIT InvenTeam,
students at Eastern High created the Maji Drum, a UV water filtration and storage device that provides clean, drinkable water for third world countries.

Music Lab at Episcopal AcademyCreative Writing and Arts

“Everyone talks about  creativity being one of the core 21st century skills, and to extend learning into areas of creative writing has proven to be terrific for students,” says Geoffrey Wagg, head of Episcopal Academy’s Upper School.

Some students are encouraged to publish their work in magazines such as Teen Inc. Others write poems or short stories to accompany photo essays. Some arts students tackle projects that combine subject areas, such as art history studies of classic Greek or Latin cultures.

Online, students are encouraged to create websites and blogs. They design their sites and write updates.

One Eastern High student created a science, technology and entertainment blog and included a “word cloud.”
People could click on a word and be hyperlinked to posts within the blog corresponding to it.

Terri Akman is a contributing writer to MetroKids and South Jersey mom of three.

Categories: Autism Research & Advice, Education Features