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"Are smart kids misrepresented in the media? Definitely."

Thousands of academically above-average students attend the Centre for Talented Youth every year. Here, three teenagers explain what it means to them.

The journalism class at CTYI this summer
The journalism class at CTYI this summer
Image: CTYI

FOR THOUSANDS OF kids across Ireland, the Centre for Talented Youth is one of the most important parts of the year.

CTYI,  based in DCU, runs classes for academically above-average students aged from 6 to 17. For younger students this means attending classes on Saturdays during term-time, while for teenagers it involves an three-week residential course during the summer.

Here, three students from the journalism class describe what it’s like to be academically talented, the reaction from other people, and what they get out of going to ‘nerd camp’.

Jack Kearney

I have been attending CTYI since I was 7 years old. CTYI is a programme aimed at providing academic stimulus for gifted students between the ages of 6 and 17. CTYI offers its participants a variety of courses to choose from such as Journalism, Philosophy, War and Conflict Studies, Cyber Psychology, Law, Medicine and more. CTYI’s programme not only caters for students during the school year, but also over two sessions during summer.

I first attended the CTYI summer programme in 2010. That year, I studied War and Conflict studies which I greatly enjoyed. It was very interesting to look at a huge number of wars that have scarred our history, and the way the media portrayed these events. We looked at some of the techniques that some media sources used, such as being biased to one side over another and using propaganda to make one side look better then the rest. The course was very enjoyable, but it isn’t just the academia that I enjoy at CTYI. The programme also has a huge social aspect to it, one that I highly value. I have made a lot of friends at CTYI, friends who share the same interests as me, and this is one of the reasons why I hold CTYI in such a good light.

This year, I studied Journalism during the summer session. It was a great experience – I’ve learnt about how journalists and the media go about their work and the risks they take to ensure they get the best material. Working on our own class newspaper was a big highlight for me, and gave me a really idea of what it felt like to be a journalists and work in an office producing newspapers.

I can honestly say that CTYI has been one of the best experiences that I have been lucky to say I have participated in. It’s a hub where young individuals who have the same interests and are all on the same level come together and can just be themselves. I definitely feel privileged to have got the opportunity to do it.

Shauna Caffrey

(CTYI students Caroline Gowan, Aideen Byrne, Mary Spillane, Jack Kearney and Shauna Caffrey)

As a student of CTYI, I’ve seen all of the misconceptions that people have about it and the people who go there, and I’ve seen how the media can (albeit unintentionally) misrepresent talented children and alienate them from their more ‘normal’ peers.

As an organisation, CTYI opens up doors for its students to study topics of interest that are not available or accessible in the school system, which can often help students (we call ourselves CTYIzens) to discover things that they may want to follow in their life, be it in college or just in their spare time.

But one of the most important things about CTYI is its social scene. It’s true that a lot of talented children have social anxiety and find it awkward communicating with their peers (not in all cases), but CTYI gives them, us, a chance to meet people with similar interests, and who most likely have experienced similar social situations.

CTYI has as vibrant and full social scene as any other place where teenagers populate. Maybe the conversation topics are a little different from time to time, but overall there is little difference between CTYIzen to CTYIzen conversations and the conversations held between any other two teenagers.

A flaw in most portrayals of CTYI and its students is that they focus very much on why the students are different. Of course it’s important. Failing to talk about and acknowledge the abilities of talented children would be a travesty. We are different. We’re smart. We have our own traditions (we like to dress as pirates on Wednesday), but we’re human.

We’re teenagers. We watch TV, we like music, we use the internet, we have facebook accounts, we have relationships, we worry about exams.
Sometimes it seems that if people talked about that more people would understand a lot more about talented children, and their world at CTYI.

Mary Spillane

(Taoiseach Enda Kenny addressing students at CTYI in July. Photo: CTYI)

A solitary tear rolled down my face as the last line of ‘American Pie’ rang out across the quad in DCU. I moved to wipe it away as the talented teenagers all around me erupted into a fit of clapping and emotional hugs.

This is the way the last night at CTYI always ends; one candle-lit ceremony, 300 students and an endless stream of disappointed tears. It’s amazing how attached you can get to your so-called ‘ fellow nerds’ in the space of just three short weeks.

This year’s second summer session at the Centre for Talented Youth of Ireland began on Sunday 15 July and ended yesterday. After my two previous experiences of CTYI summer courses, I was really looking forward to it. But that does not mean I wasn’t nervous.

As a fifteen year old, I had just finished my Junior Cert before starting CTYI. Contrary to the high achievements and effortless As I have been used to for the past two years, my first state exam threw my belief in my own brain. I battled through endless nights of homework and study, trying to learn it all, wanting the best result I could muster.

So, needless to say, barely a month after I had finished, driving up to a summer course full of individuals who nonchalantly got nine or ten As in their Junior Cert was daunting at the least.

At home, there is a certain amount of pressure on me, as a ‘talented; youth, to keep my test results up. I personally hate telling people what grade I got, because their reaction is either an ‘of course you did’ one, or, if they did better than me, the usual is to squeal excitedly and then proceed to tell everyone else their achievement.

When people treat me like this at home, as nothing but a comparative, I cannot help but feel that I must be intelligent. Couple this with the fact that my parents are always telling me that I can do anything if I put my mind to it and you have the makings of a seriously cocky teenager.

But I am not like that. After attending a CTYI course for the first time in 2010, my feet were most certainly still on the ground. In my opinion, all the other attendees were much smarter, being competent enough to discuss the complicated topics and titles relating to ‘Speculative Fiction Writing’ in great detail. I felt useless, stupid, because I did not think I was good enough to be there.

When I first heard about CTYI I thought it would be a great chance to have an intellectual conversation for once with someone my own age. After coming home, I realised I wasn’t all that I thought I was.

So which side of the spectrum did I prefer. Well, that would be a hard question to answer if I had not discovered the method of learning for which I have been deemed ‘talented’. I listen and learn from others, soaking up information like a sponge, I don’t think I’m the kind of person who spoon-feeds the information to others. Knowing this, it was easier to tackle medicine in CTYI last year, making me feel more adept at the coursework. All of a sudden, I was not the overachiever or the completely lost teen anymore. I was just another student, roughly equal in terms of academic ability for a change. It felt good to be in the same boat as someone for a change.

Though now I have regained a quiet confidence in my own academic ability, I still do not consider myself ‘talented’. If I was to give a synopsis of what it is like to be talented in Ireland, I don’t think anything else could sum it up better than my secondary school experiences thus far. I love CTYI because it is challenging, not necessarily more so than school, but in a different way. In short, I love being smarter than average, but I know that I have a long way to go to be considered ‘talented’.

How are gifted young people cared for in Ireland? >

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