Gifted program supports students through counseling

Jennifer Hylands AEP room is set-up for students to have conversations, complete work, and also to rest between classes.

Abby Nelson

Jennifer Hyland’s AEP room is set-up for students to have conversations, complete work, and also to rest between classes.

Abby Nelson and Victoria Kunc

The Academic Enrichment Program serves as guidance for kids who have been identified as gifted by offering counseling services and resources.

Jennifer Hyland, the gifted counselor, believes the main purpose of the Academic Enrichment Program (AEP) is to help students to reach their goals. She said, “Research has shown that gifted students do need extra levels of support to enhance their giftedness, and to help them reach their goals – to excel and exceed in their classroom.”

AEP junior Lex Schneier thinks Hyland is one of the most valuable resources for gifted students. He said, “I go to her for help, and she’ll either connect me with somebody who can help me, or she’ll personally help me, and she is super willing to just go out of her way and supply a bunch of help for you.”

According to counselor Pamela Bobinski, who works with seniors, gifted students often need support because they take hard classes. She said, “A challenging course and not being successful or as successful as one would like to be can be difficult to process and manage in trying to figure out how to overcome those struggles.”

Hyland also helps gifted students with the emotional stress that often comes with being a high achiever. She said, “The good is you are always looking for challenges, you take some of the hardest classes, and you work really hard to really try hard in those classes. But on the other hand, when things aren’t going well in those classes, we have a really emotional response to that, which might be shutting down.”

Being a high-achiever can cause students to feel like they aren’t as smart if they need help, according to Hyland. She said, “Fear of asking for help, sometimes is a problem for gift kids because they have always usually done well in the past and now that they have struggled, they do not know what to do, so they might resort to the shutting down experience.”

Another common struggle for gifted students is burnout syndrome, which Hyland says is shutting down mentally when life becomes too much. She said, “It’s not just academics, it’s everything; they are so enthusiastic about learning and enthusiastic about clubs and enthusiastic about doing everything, and sometimes it’s because they want to get into top colleges – sometimes it’s just because they want to learn, and they take on too much – so balance is so critical.”

Bobinski thinks that this year especially has caused many students to experience burnout. She said, “Between Covid and then coming back from remote learning and trying to re-establish their own self-expectation of school has definitely created some burnout in trying to get everything motivated again, and for the right reasons.

Many AEP students hold themselves to a high standard, including Schneier. He said, “My parents expect a solid amount from me, but when it comes down to the math test, or the history test, it’s me that I’m hard on myself. [This is] because I know that I studied for a bunch of hours, and if I don’t do well, it’s like, ‘okay, well, I just wasted so much time and all my effort just to get a bad grade’.”

Hyland says that gifted kids feel the stress of higher expectations from themselves and others. She said, “Parents put a lot of pressure on AEP students, sometimes even too much in my opinion. I think even teachers have high expectations, sometimes too high of expectations, and it comes from a lot of different angles.”

Schneier was struggling in history and didn’t know what to do, so he asked Hyland for help. He said, “She gave me a book that really helped me out, and she gave me some sources and told me that I can go in there whenever.”

Gifted students tend to “struggle in silence,” as Hyland phrases it. She said, “That’s the big thing when we are struggling [and] having difficulties; we have to make sure we are talking to people…usually everyone is feeling the same way you are feeling, you are not alone in this, and you need to know that. We are here to help you and support you, and ask for help.”

Shneier knows from experience that gifted students often feel embarrassment and shame when asking for help. He said, “If you need help, don’t be afraid to go talk to a teacher, especially Mrs. Hyland. She’s super understanding about it; I went to her and told her I was getting horrible grades and I was almost embarrassed to tell her because my grades were not good, but she really helped me pick them up.”

Bobinski says she sees a lot of common traits in kids who are in the AEP program. She said, “[They are students who are] definitely willing to take on challenges, willing to struggle through some difficult situations, higher-achieving interest, and quality of teamwork, quality of independent work, quality of communication to others – including working in groups or contributing to projects.”

Finding balance between academics and extracurriculars is an issue Hyland often encounters in kids. She said, “Being involved in activities provides you opportunities to meet new people, talk to kids you might have never ever known because you might never have classes with them. It provides you with opportunities to show leadership, to have those opportunities to get involved and volunteer.”

By having multiple AEP students in the program, Hyland has seen the kids form a community of support. She said, “You do support each other, and you do share common traits. We know gifted kids have certain traits. You have similar experiences, you understand the pressures put upon you… from parents and teachers.”