Sixty years ago Dr. Annemarie Roeper and her husband, George, were visionaries in the field of gifted education. As they fled Nazi Germany, they formulated a plan for a school designed to ensure that gifted minds accomplished only positive things.
The Roepers settled in Michigan, and their school, then called the Roeper City and Country School, opened in Detroit in 1941; it moved to Bloomfield Hills, its current location, in 1946. Ten years later the Roeper School, as it is now known, was commissioned as a school for the gifted—one of the first in this country. The school now has two campuses and enrolls over 600 students from the Detroit area. It is dedicated to educating the whole student. “The fulfillment of the individual is more important than academic goals,” says Dr. Roeper.
“I find that most gifted students’ goal is to make a better world.” —Dr. Annemarie Roeper
The Roepers reasoned that if they took all the components of a gifted child into consideration, they could maximize his or her emotional, spiritual, and scientific growth. “Giftedness is the way these children look at the world,” explains Dr. Roeper, who now lives and works in Oakland, California, although she continues to lend her expertise to the Roeper School as a consultant. “It is how they understand the world and how they understand themselves.”
Personalizing each child’s education makes this growth possible. The school recognizes that when students share the responsibility for their own education, they challenge themselves. Hence they, as well as their teachers and parents, are involved in planning each part of their course of studies. The children have a gifted peer group to work with every day. They learn as much from each other as they do from their teachers.
Typical student groupings are kept together for two years and have the same teachers (one full-time, one four-fifths-time) both years. For most of the day, one half of the class participates in an elective (e.g., science, art, music, computer, French, physical education, or dance), while the other half has small-group or teacher-directed instruction.
The teachers and staff work rigorously to build the students’ self-esteem and confidence while challenging them scholastically. Because reduced academic competition has been found beneficial to their growth, students are not ranked at Roeper, nor are accolades given only to the best students. Instead, all successes are praised, which creates a powerful incentive to learn and consequently a rich learning environment.
The Roepers’ original plan has led the school’s students to great achievements. Indeed, Roeper boasts a high percentage of National Merit finalists, high Advanced Placement scores, and excellence in many academic and extracurricular areas. Its unique approach to educating gifted students has made it a model institution.
Susan Ludwig is a teacher and freelance writer who holds an M.A. in educational leadership, with an emphasis in exceptional student education, from Florida Atlantic University.
The Roeper School is organized in two campuses (the Lower and Middle/Upper Schools). For more information, visit the school’s Web site at www.roeper.org.