Gifted in Quebec? Advocate.

Growing up in the 70s and 80s, I knew I was different, as do most gifted kids — or indeed other kids with learning differences. I was fortunate enough to always be able to make friends, and even had a best friend. But in general, my educational experiences in elementary school were under par.

From grades three through five, I was teased at school. I had friends, but there were a few kids (for some reason, 8-10 year olds can be merciless) who enjoyed targeting the kid who daydreamed all the time. Teachers didn’t know what to make of me. I wasn’t interested in classwork, rarely did homework, and stared out the window a lot. I also wrote short stories that were at the high school level. However, I was simply designated as an uninterested daydreamer who didn’t put “effort into her work.” Quebec never did have any gifted identification criteria or programs, so it is probably no surprise that many unidentified gifted kids are languishing in Quebec elementary schools even now. And some might even be getting poor or spotty grades, as I did, simply because they’ve stopped being interested or have been mislabeled as poor students, leading to the Pygmalion Effect. Others might present as behaviour problems due to sheer boredom and a feeling of being misunderstood.

Quebec still does not formally recognize giftedness or provide gifted programs as do several other provinces. The reasoning is that teachers must cater to every child’s special needs, whether gifted or not, so these kids will get the education they need. In reality, though, teachers struggle to manage classes of 30 students or more, and how much time, really, can an overworked, underpaid teacher devote to special needs students?

Returning to my own experiences in Quebec’s education system, high school was a very different story. The courses were hit or miss, but fortunately, I was in the French immersion program, and was placed in enriched math. Finally, our school was among only a few in Montreal to have an experimental and diverse English program called the APEX program. Instead of suffering through English 101, we were streamed beginning in grade nine. There were five levels — the first two being remedial, the third being average, and the fourth and fifth being advanced. I was soon placed in the advanced classes, so I took courses including Shakespeare, Satire, and a Self-Directed Study course that allowed me to work on my own and produce a term paper or two.

I excelled in most classes, and — on the whole — enjoyed a good deal of my high school experience. I was a typical HG/PG kid — head in the clouds, preferring to read alone in the library rather than hang out in groups, and I tended not to know much about the social norms of larger groups. Nor did I care about fashion or makeup.

I liked classical music, and ran to the library over recess and lunch to read books on Egyptology and Latin translations of Alice in Wonderland. I was enthused about quantum physics even though I never studied it in school, and when I got home, I sometimes avoided my homework so that I could read the astrophysics textbook I’d taken out of the library. Quarks fascinated me for a long time. I also invented codes and ciphers; one day, a teacher returned the coded sheet I’d accidentally left in my homework assignment. She’d placed a few question marks at the top. I think it amused her which was, on the whole, a good thing. In short, I was a little on the different side.

It was okay, though. Unlike some highly gifted kids, who are teased mercilessly, shoved into lockers, and considered freaks for being different, I think I was generally liked, even if I wasn’t a member of the ‘popular’ groups. Nor did I care much. I had my friends, and I liked pretty much everyone in my class. They were, in fact, a really great group of kids. I had a party once, to celebrate my Sweet 16, and nearly my entire class showed up. Looking back, I probably missed a lot of social cues, and my aloofness and introversion likely kept me from being more involved in group life. But since popularity wasn’t a priority for me at the time, that was my modus vivendi.

So, on the whole, a pretty tolerable experience once I got to high school. I was one of the lucky ones.

I’ve shared my own personal experience because I cannot imagine that it’s not shared by many gifted kids who don’t have access to appropriate programs — this is particularly true of HG/PG students.

I also share this as there are many students out there currently going through similar experiences. Simply put, gifted programs should be in place to cater to kids with special needs. Because too many gifted students end up in K-11 programs that echo my elementary school experiences, and they never come to associate school with engaging learning content. As we’ve read, a good number of gifted students drop out and become underemployed. (I can only wonder what the Quebec stats are.) Which is, I’m sure you’ll agree, a real waste of promise.

Parents of gifted students in Canada — particularly in provinces such as Quebec, without gifted programs — should, I believe, advocate for such programs. Anyone with me here?

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20 comments on “Gifted in Quebec? Advocate.
  1. I have to say that I am at a complete lost… My son is in elementary school and is gifted. Your story seems very similar to what we are currently going through. Unfortunately, I can’t seem to find any support in Montreal. Do you know of a group or association that could help me find some resources?

    Thank you.

    • Hi, Sophie! I can well understand your challenge. In my experience, there is very little support in Montreal, or Quebec in general. For some reason, Quebec doesn’t believe in creating separate programs for the gifted. Instead, the MEQ believes that such students can be accommodated in a regular classroom, where teachers should be working to accommodate different learning styles.

      In reality, when you have at least 30 students to teach, how well can a gifted child’s special needs be addressed? This is an open question.

      If you don’t mind going further afield, there are associations in Ontario and across the country that can provide general information. This site, http://www.hoagiesgifted.org is also a treasure trove of excellent resources.

      If you’re looking locally, and if your family is French speaking, you may be in luck, as there is *one* science oriented school for gifted children in Montreal, and you might want to contact them. Here is their web site: http://www2.csdm.qc.ca/FSeguin/

      If you have an English speaking family and don’t want to take the plunge of enrolling your son in a French language school, I’ve heard good things about St. George’s School in Westmount. It’s private (and hence, money is involved), but they apparently do manage to accommodate special needs quite well. I have no personal experience with them, however.

      There are also some schools such as the International Baccaleureate schools that have enriched programs. Not exactly gifted programs, but they offer a challenge. This one is a French-language school: http://www.ibo.org/school/001756/

      In the English system (EMSB), Carlyle School is working toward the International Baccalaureate status, whic means that although it doesn’t yet have it, it has a special mandate. It’s not a school for the gifted, but perhaps it might be helpful to give them a call to see if they can meet your son’s needs: More info. here: http://www.emsb.qc.ca/carlyle/

      Please keep me posted, and feel free to e-mail.

  2. Any resources in the Gatineau area? Where does one go to find education assessment services to check your child’s learning needs?

    • This response has taken far too long; my apologies. I don’t know of any resources in Gatineau. But there are some excellent testing psychologists in Ottawa. Of course, these may or may not be covered by private insurance. Best to check before booking appointments. How are things now?

  3. Hi, I was happy to read your experiences. My son is in grade 1 and already comes home saying school is so easy. They are having him read level 9 books (apparenly average is level 2) but he says these are easy too. I have heard of one IB program in LaSalle for elementary but is a considerable distance from us. I am concerned about overwhelming him by long car trips to and from school. The other option in our area is a private school. It is unfortunate that in Quebec it is almost an embarrasment to have a gifted student. When you ask for additional help they state that the resource help is for “specialneeds” students . Well in my eyes my son is a special needs student. I don’t want him to get lazy by unchallenging work. I was wondering if anyone has tried after school programs like Kumon Learning centers to give extra challenge? Any help is keeping my son engaged and challenged would be appreciated.

    • Sorry this has taken so long. I’m actually revamping and maintaining this blog now. :) How are things for your son now? Any better? The IB in LaSalle is supposed to be very good. St. George’s School is also excellent at accommodating special needs of all kinds. Depends on your budget and location in the city. In many provinces, giftedness IS a special need that needs accommodation. I too find the situation in Quebec to be frustrating. Have you had your son tested? Not that it will get him into a gifted program, as there isn’t anything that I know of for anglos. But if you would like some interesting enrichment online, gifted students have a few options in the form of online learning for the gifted. Here are two popular programs: http://epgy.stanford.edu/ and http://cty.jhu.edu/ if you end up using one of them, I’d love to know what you think of the program you choose.

      • Thanks for checking in. Unfortunately, not much has changed. My son is in Grade 2 and reading at a min of grade 5 level (as per his teacher). She told me she would do her best to accomodate him with extra, more challenging work, but she may not always be able to provide it. She said the class is very diverse, with one autistic child as well as some that need help just being at the grade 2 level. Luckily, there is another little girl in his class this year that seems advanced too. At the beginning of the year we were having a lot of behaviour problems at home but apparently at school he was the best student. We changed homework time and that seemed to help. He still finds school easy. Thank you for the information about the schools in Montreal. We have done a lot of looking around. Unfortunately, we are not zoned for the school in LaSalle. St George’s is downtown and we live on the outskirts of Montreal so the commute would be overwhelming not to mention the cost of private schools in Montreal. I will check out the online sites you suggested and let you know how it goes. As always if you hear of any programs in the West Island of Montreal I would love to hear about them.

      • There is «Fernand-Seguin» School in Montreal that offers a science concentration program for gifted children. Other than «International Schools» that offers enrichment and deepening of academic contents, and may be Alternative Schools that offers an «alternative» in the amount of stimulation in elementary schools (and some Montessori), there are no other specialized schools (but F.-Seguin) for the gifted… yet.
        There is a group of people working on the idea of opening one eventually, though.

  4. I have a dilema. My son has always been very advanced at school. Reading well above the norm (he is grade 2 reading at grade 5 level). However this year he seems to have stagnated. I have seen very little progression in his language arts. His teacher says he picks up new conceppts in all areas very quickly and is “her best student”. Unfortunately at home he can be very challenging. We are considering private schools but are not sure they are worth the money. We are considering a school in Vaudreuil called Eco-Lita Trilingue which has class sizes or about 7:1. Does anyone have any opinion private vs public. AS we are progressing in his school we are afraid if he is not challenged he will loose interest and motivation (which is already happening. Any comments are welcome.

  5. Hi, does anyone have any info if and IB program is a good challenge for a gifted child. Clearpoint Elementary in Pointe Claire is no an IB Primary Years Program and I was wondering if anyone has any experience with an IB program.

    • Yes! My gifted child has loved the IB program (International) in high school and he recommends it.
      They have academic enrichment and deepening, with literature and work methodology, and have three languages to study. The child must «love to study» though, since they have «a lot» of homework to do, but the challenge is bigger and offers a high quality education, as I understand. Let us not forget the international orientation, since the kids are naturally prone to want to travel to study and work overseas afterward, since the international approach they have been thought throughout their studies. My child and I, thinks it is well suited for gifted children.

  6. Very interesting read through everyone’s comments. My son is giften and has been at St. George’s in Montreal the past 9 years. He did really well with the teachers accomodating him as much as they could, until 10 th grade. I am not sure what the trigger was. Maybe thinking about Universities he wants to attend – he wants to apply to MIT, CALTECH, Stanford, etc. In addition, the disparity between what the other kids are interested in and the passion for learning that has been consuming him became more and more apparent. Anyway, there was a plan for him to have a science mentorship that fell through after he had worked on it all year and that was the last straw. He had taken a free online course through MIT in University level Biology and enjoyed that more then most of his classes and started to resent the time he had to spend for those and studying for the Ministerial exams. Then he discovered the Stanford Online High School. When he came to me to discuss it as an

    • Hi, Lisi.

      I think your comment was cut off. Did your son begin studies with the Stanford Online High School after all? (I’ve heard good things about St. George’s, and even went on a tour once. They seem to be very child centred. Not specific to giftedness, but it would certainly be one of the better options in Montreal for a gifted child, IMO.)

  7. to finish my entry above. …when he came to me to discuss it as an option, he was more excited than I had seen him in a really long time. He completed the application during his 10 th grade finals and was accepted. I invite you to check it out if your child is in 7 th grade or above, you can consider part-time ($USD 3500 for one course) or full time attendance ($USD 16,600) plus computer and books – very competitive with the best English private schools in Montreal. He is so excited to start this fall. I want to reiterate that the teachers and staff at St. George’s are great, but I think for gifted students it is also important to be in a community of peers where they can interact at their level – especially once they reach the teen years. I know he will need more support from his dad and from me to do this, but we think it will be worth it. Will keep you posted on our experiences, but so far so good!

    • Hi, Lisi!

      Ah, there is the rest of your entry. I’m so happy to hear that your son is enjoying the Stanford program. That is wonderful. Please update any time you like. Would love to hear about his progress. I’ve heard good things about the program.

      Have a good weekend!

  8. dear mr/mrs
    i undersighned mozhgan and i have a 7 year old towin,a son and a daughter,we came to montreal some days ago and we are intrested to register our children in a gifted schoolas they were going to one of them in our original country,iran,so i would apretiate it if you help me in this case.
    best regards.

  9. I have lived in Mtl. for 11 years and until recently, “had no idea” of the lack of acknowledgment and resources in Quebec. My daughter will enter KG this fall. I need to have her evaluated. Can you recommend resources in Mtl. for evaluation of young children?

  10. My child saw a lovely psychologist on the West Island. Her name is Dr. Lisa Reisinger. She does autism assessments, but is also quite familiar with giftedness, and has a great way with kids.

    I’m not certain if the following listing is current, but this is from the 2009 EMSB database for special needs services:

    Reisinger, Lisa, PhD
    Psychologist, West Island Private Psychology Services
    444 Beaconsfield Blvd, Beaconsfield, Quebec
    Tel: 514-293-4463

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