Why we chose Discovery

Why We Chose Discovery

Owen Gabrielson

My spouse and I chose Discovery to surround our child with focused, quirky, intense, weird, smart kids. Below, I describe what Discovery is, what led us to it, and why it works for us. Your mileage may vary.

What is Discovery?

Washington’s Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI) requires that districts serve gifted student needs by delivering extra services to children deemed “highly capable.” (WAC 392-170-020). The range of services typically depends on parent demand.

Services range from differentiation (changing the instruction for some students to make the learning experience “deeper”) and acceleration (instruction that advances beyond grade level) to clustering (placing two or more highly capable children together, and differentiating or accelerating to that group).

A self-contained highly capable classroom—like Tahoma’s Discovery program—is the ultimate cluster grouping for highly capable kids. It is a classroom of students composed of all highly capable students who receive a differentiated and accelerated curriculum cultivated for their specific learning needs.

Tahoma School District’s highly capable program alternative to Discovery is the Cougar Classroom. This is where two or more highly capable students are added in a regular classroom. The teacher should be trained to differentiate and/or accelerate the curriculum for those students.

Troubles in the regular classroom?

In first and second grade our oldest had difficulty connecting with other students in a regular classroom. She went from an outgoing preschooler, to a socially hesitant grade-schooler. When she made a friend, it was typically a child who used big words; talked about current events or liked puns. Kids had difficulty interacting with her, and vice versa; they did not “get” each other. The highlight of her week was enrichment lessons she received from the district’s highly capable coordinator. But that was only an hour a week. She was not happy in her regular classroom. We knew she needed a change. That summer when told her she would attend a new school and would be in a full-time highly capable class, she pumped her fist like Tiger Woods and exclaimed, “Yes!”

In Discovery, she found herself surrounded with other intense, curious and supportive kids who recognize and appreciate each other’s individual and different talents. Our enthusiastic, confident and curious child returned.
(Other regular classroom challenges can include boredom; reading ahead and waiting for others to catch up, and disengagement. That might have been an issue with our child, but the social-emotional difficulties she encountered were more our focus.)

What to expect in Discovery

Discovery is rife with different and extraordinary talents. However, not every child will have extraordinary talent in everything. There are mathy kids with average verbal skills. Some command large vocabularies and write beautifully, but math is not their thing. Some are wildly creative or musically accomplished. Whatever the talent or skill, the children recognize it, celebrate it, and encourage it.


One of my favorite aspect of Discovery is year-to-year continuity. Each class moves up together. When they leave the program, students will have been together for three years. No doubt they form bonds that will last into middle school, high school—and perhaps beyond.

Depending on your perspective, keeping the same group together for three years might be a disadvantage. One criticism Discovery receives is that it isolates the students from the regular classroom kids. Or they do not mix enough with others in their grade. For some that might be a real concern. For us, it is not. Our child has bonded with her classmates and feels very safe being herself in the Discovery classroom. She is once again happy.

That is enough for us.

Parting advice

While Discovery is a blessing for our family, it may not be a good fit for everyone. The academic challenge is high (the writing curriculum has been superb), and lessons move faster than in a regular classroom. If you are not sure, talk to your child’s teacher or to Tahoma School District’s Highly Capable Coordinator. Learn about your child’s CogAT or ITBS scores, what they mean (and what they do not mean). Schools use these as an inexpensive way to help identify gifted students en masse. But these tests are not comprehensive assessments of a child’s overall abilities. For example, a child can be a high achiever and not be “gifted,” and may thrive better in a regular classroom.

Conversely, a child can be “gifted” and may also suffer from low achievement. (This is what highly capable programs try to redress.) Read. Start with Hoagies Gifted Education Page ( Then check out Seabury School and Seattle Country Day. Both are private “gifted” schools with comprehensive websites that answer parent questions about all these issues.

Finally, let your child’s happiness and mental well-being help guide your decisions.

Good luck!

For those who want to learn more about the legal definitions of gifted students and their associated rights and privileges, read on:

Washington law requires that public school districts include services for “highly capable” students. RCW 28A.150.220(3)(g)(3). “Highly capable” students are those who

"perform or show potential for performing at significantly advanced
academic levels when compared with others of their age, experiences, or
environments. Outstanding abilities are seen within students' general
intellectual aptitudes, specific academic abilities, and/or creative
productivities within a specific domain…."
WAC 392-170-036.

There is no single consensus on what “gifted” is. It has proven a nebulous box where we only observe its characteristics and define it by those characteristics. These may include unusual alertness, focus, intensity, creativity, idealism/sense of justice, wide range of interests, curiosity, and/or ability to learn quickly (or high IQ). See Common Characteristics of Gifted Children, National Association for Gifted Children.

Congress has defined gifted students as those:

"who give evidence of high achievement capability in areas such as
intellectual, creative, artistic, or leadership capacity, or in specific
academic fields, and who need services or activities not ordinarily
provided by the school in order to fully develop those capabilities."

Another definition:

"Giftedness is asynchronous development in which advanced cognitive
abilities and heightened intensity combine to create inner experiences and
awareness that are qualitatively different from the norm. This asynchrony
increases with higher intellectual capacity. The uniqueness of the gifted
renders them particularly vulnerable and requires modifications in
parenting, teaching and counseling in order for them to develop optimally."

Id. (citing Martha Morelock, Giftedness: The View from Within, in Understanding Our Gifted, January 1992).