Tucked between warehouses and woods in west Houston, the Rainard School for Gifted Students is a sanctuary for children who have felt alienated and ostracized at other campuses.
Students must have an IQ of at least 135 to be admitted to the nonprofit campus, where educators strive to provide an abundance of patience, sensitivity and intellectual challenges to the often-misunderstood gifted children.
What’s rare at the school: girls. Just one-quarter of the campus’s 73 students are females, providing insight into how gender roles play out in the gifted population.
In Texas public schools, females represent 51 percent of students identified as gifted. Those girls, however, are rarely willing to leave their social circles and usually don’t act out enough to force their parents to seek pricey alternatives such as Rainard, where tuition starts at $11,800 a year.
“It’s disappointing,” said Robert Mendez, a math teacher whose 11-year-old daughter attends Rainard. “Girls end up conforming and trying to please. They don’t get challenged as much as they’d like.”
Operating on a shoestring marketing budget, Rainard doesn’t specifically recruit female students. They admit the small campus with self-paced classes is a tough sell.
“It’s very hard to get girls to come here,” said Jennifer Dunham, who runs the school with her husband.
Often, girls are afraid to let people know how smart they are and won’t demand more challenging coursework at public school, Dunham said.
Rainard’s enrollment has been gradually increasing over its 24-year history, but it is nowhere near the four-acre campus’s capacity of 120 students. A high school was added a few years ago, a move that administrators hope will spur growth. In addition to offering classes for college credit, the high school provides nearly 30 classes beyond the traditional scope, including astronomy, strategic policy and international relations.
Many parents chose Rainard because their children — mostly sons — are bored and acting up at traditional schools. They drive up to 90 minutes a day from as far away as Cypress, Bellaire and Memorial.
Hard to make friends
Some of the students have been misdiagnosed with attention disorders. Others have been bullied and teased. They’ve struggled to make friends, to fit in.
“I couldn’t seem to make any friends and there wasn’t much of a playground there,” 9-year-old Iain McDonald said, explaining why he returned to Rainard after a brief stint at a Houston charter school.
His classmate, 10-year-old Zoe Hatchett, remembers being forced to erase answers when she worked ahead at her last school, a Catholic campus.
Zoe shrugs off the fact that she’s so outnumbered by boys at Rainard.
“I’ve gotten used to it,” she said.
‘Confidence comes out’
Gifted children seem to blossom at Rainard, where they’re encouraged to be creative and active learners.
“The confidence comes out,” said Jennifer Boisvert, who handles Rainard’s marketing and has two children at the school. “They have a lot of questions. They have a lot of insecurities.”
Her daughter, 8-year-old Sophia, had a tough time fitting in before the Boisverts found Rainard. The school has bolstered Sophia’s social skills, and she is currently studying fifth-grade math.
“She doesn’t feel different anymore,” her mother said. “Academically, she can be who she is. Outside of school, she can still be a kid.”
Anna Wheless, the only girl in the 12-student high school, is setting the academic pace for her male classmates. The aspiring physician transferred to Rainard this year after feeling overwhelmed by the size of Houston ISD’s Pershing Middle School.
The 13-year-old said that studying alongside all the boys might better prepare her to enter a male-dominated field.
Otherwise, she said the lopsided gender demographics aren’t an issue.
“It’s no problem,” Anna said. “Everyone’s really nice.”
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