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  • RENÉE C. BYER / rbyer@sacbee.com

    Tanishq Abraham sits with his mother, Taji, in a recent astronomy class at American River College's Natomas campus. The 7-year-old is a member of Mensa, as is his 5-year-old sister, Tiara.

  • RENÉE C. BYER / rbyer@sacbee.com

    Tanishq Abraham heads for the lunch line after recess at Heron School, where in April officials ordered him to attend five days a week.

  • RENÉE C. BYER / rbyer@sacbee.com

    Tanishq likes to play chess with his father, Bijou Abraham, chatting and strategizing all the while.

  • RENÉE C. BYER / rbyer@sacbee.com

    Tanishq Abraham, an accomplished pianist, plays for his mother and sister at home.

More Information

  • Gifted children don't always fare well on standardized tests, particularly true-or-false tests. So, how does a parent tell if a child is gifted? Start by looking for some of these characteristics:

    • Verbal precociousness

    • Depth of understanding of many topics

    • Social awareness

    • Sense of humor

    • Good memory

    • Penetrating questions

    • Heightened task commitment

    • Independence

    • Being goal-oriented

    • Increased rate of learning

    Then follow up with a Mensa- sanctioned IQ test.

    – Lisa Van Gemert, gifted youth specialist for American Mensa

    Links for learning

    Gifted youths can go to numerous websites and phone applications for accelerated learning. Here are some picks from Mensa.

    iTunes U

    Hoagies Gifted Education Page

    MensaMensaforkids.org

Gifted boy seeks to learn, but where?

Published: Monday, Jun. 20, 2011 - 12:00 am | Page 1D
Last Modified: Tuesday, Jun. 28, 2011 - 10:27 am

Tanishq Abraham sat in a classroom at American River College's Natomas campus listening intently to a lecture on astronomy.

The 7-year-old boy is the youngest student attending American River College since it began keeping records in 1983.

He occasionally brushed away curly brown locks or put his chin on the table, keeping his eyes fixed on a screen at the front of the room.

That evening, college instructor Paulo Afonso asked for a volunteer to explain Newton's second law of motion. Tanishq's hand shot up.

"Force equals mass times acceleration," he said.

"What is time dilation?" Afonso asked the class.

Tanishq again raised his hand and answered quietly. His teacher leaned in to hear.

"Good. That's a good answer," Afonso said.

The other students nodded knowingly. They are used to their young classmate's ability to answer questions.

It didn't take long for them to realize Tanishq is "amazingly smart," said Alison Gaube, 23.

"It was intimidating at first," she said. "But we treat him like any other student."

The college course is one of the many ways father Bijou and mother Taji Abraham are piecing together an education for their son. They say there are limited options for the highest-achieving students in the public school system, even with classes in the Gifted and Talented Education program.

Tanishq was put in the Independent Learning Program at Heron School at the request of his parents after he skipped first grade and was "years beyond his peers" in his second-grade GATE cluster class," said Bijou Abraham.

That allowed Tanishq to attend primary school two days a week, to work at home three days a week with an accelerated online program, and to take college course work one night a week.

In April, his parents said, Natomas Unified School District officials told the family Tanishq would have to attend Heron School full time or leave. The Abrahams said the staff isn't convinced Tanishq is gifted, despite evidence they have submitted.

Tanishq attended Heron full time for the final month of the school year. Now his parents are looking for a different school.

Natomas Unified officials would not comment on the situation, saying it would be inappropriate to discuss an individual student.

The Abrahams want to keep Tanishq in the school part time so he can spend time with children his age.

Steve Sterling, Tanishq's first professor at American River College, rebuffs any suggestion that Tanishq is anything less than a genius.

"There are programs for Down (syndrome) students, handicapped students and visually impaired students," he said. "There are programs for these students, but not for Tanishq."

Gifted programs scarce

Gifted children are often denied that designation, said Lisa Van Gemert, the gifted-youth specialist for the Mensa Foundation – an organization for people with IQs in the top 2 percent. Tanishq is in the 99.9 percentile, according to Mensa testing.

She said high-achieving children sometimes are overlooked because they don't always do high-level work in all subjects. They typically catch up in all areas as they get older. They sometimes get misdiagnosed with attention deficit disorder because of the ways their frustration manifests itself, she said.

"Kids at that end of the spectrum – in the top 1 percent of IQ – have just as hard of a time approaching standard curriculum as a child at the (other) end of the spectrum," she said. "It's not meant for them. It never was."

Programs for gifted students have become more scarce as districts dismantle them because of budget problems, said Anna Williams of the California Association for the Gifted. The more gifted a child, the less likely it is there are programs for that child, she said.

In the end many families of gifted children end up home-schooling them, Van Gemert said, adding, "It's sad that they feel that is their only choice."

Taji Abraham said she knew Tanishq was exceptionally smart when he was an infant. Now she's busy feeding his hunger for knowledge. He and his 5-year-old sister, Tiara, shadow a veterinarian at the Discovery Animal Center once a week, take piano and swim lessons and, on weekends, attend lectures, visit museums and tour art galleries.

Bijou Abraham shuttles Tanishq to Oakland twice a week for rehearsals with the San Francisco Boys Chorus.

Van Gemert said this type of schedule is common among families of high achievers.

"Nobody can meet all of his needs, so they are quilting it together."

Taji Abraham gave up a career as a veterinarian to shepherd her children's educations. On a recent Wednesday she worked on reading with her daughter, while Tanishq perused the NASA website.

The soft-spoken boy moves between his microscope, laptop, the piano and the pile of books on the coffee table. His little sister is his constant companion. His mother doles out liberal doses of hugs and kisses.

Tanishq doesn't say much, until you ask him about science – particularly physics. Then he is eager to teach.

This day he wants to talk about bones. He turns to "The Bones and Skeleton Book," his favorite volume.

"I like the cranium," he said referring to a miniature skeleton in the family room. He begins naming bones.

Teased by classmates

At school, Tanishq and the rest of his third-grade class fidgeted in their blue plastic chairs while they listened to their teacher talk about essay writing.

Tanishq joined the other students in making Easter cards – cutting a bunny out of paper and drawing on whiskers and a nose. He finished quickly.

The loudspeaker at the back of the classroom crackled and announced the names of the students making it to the second round of auditions for the Spring Show. One student screamed in excitement; another – not hearing her name – started to cry.

Tanishq, who auditioned on the piano, hears his name and doesn't react. He keeps working on his card. Later he says he's unhappy in the school.

"I'm not very good because kids and people are kind of rude to me," he said.

Tanishq said kids sometimes tease him about being smart. He said they ask him to answer questions or to count.

"They are testing me to see whether I'm smart," he said.

There is no doubt that Bijou and Taji Abraham are proud of their children's achievements. The house is filled with their children's ribbons, trophies and plaques.

The floor in front of the fireplace is crowded with baby pageant trophies. Photos of the children fill the walls. Their ultrasound images are in a place of honor on the piano.

Two plaques on the wall show that both of the children were accepted into Mensa at age 4. They are two of 207 American Mensa members age 7 and younger. The organization has 48,951 members, said Mensa spokeswoman Catherine Barney.

The parents said they tested the kids to challenge and stimulate them.

Ranking high and scoring well is important to them. The parents have put together a six-page résumé spelling out Tanishq's seven years of achievements and a five-page résumé outlining Tiara's five years of accolades. Their piano lessons include an annual exam at California State University, Sacramento.

The Abrahams say they aren't pushing their children but are responding to their needs. Tanishq, they say, asks them to take him to lectures and to meet authors.

It's important that parents let their children set the pace, Van Gemert said.

"As soon as the kid says 'I don't want to go to that,' you stop. You don't want to have an overscheduled child."

© Copyright The Sacramento Bee. All rights reserved.

Read more articles by Diana Lambert



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