Dimensions Academy: Allowing High-Potential Children to Thrive in an Environment of their Peers

Posted by Ronald | January 30, 2012  |  14 Comments

by Iman Carol Fears

There are approximately three million[1] academically gifted students in the United States. Eighteen to 25 percent of these students will drop out of school before 12th grade[2] because their educational needs are not being met.  We are losing our brightest students to an antiquated system that often refuses outright to meet the needs of gifted children.

Dimensions Academy is a Bloomington Public Schools full-time gifted education program based in Bloomington, Minn. It is revolutionary not only because of its full-time and free-of-charge status, but also because of its reliance on the Integrated Curriculum Model, or ICM, a highly rigorous curriculum designed especially for gifted children by researchers at William and Mary College.

The Holmes Education Post Student Intern Iman Carol Fears spoke with Dr. Richard Cash, the founder of Dimensions Academy. According to Cash, the William and Mary Integrated Curriculum Model provides  children with an invaluable resource: “…the complexity of the thinking and depth of the curriculum and depth of the content information is what is beneficial for gifted kids. The integrated curriculum model gets kids to think in more complex ways and allows them to dig deeper into a discipline. And that structure also helps kids do what’s called the process product model which is the ability to construct really great ideas based on the earlier info of the deep complex thinking and the deep nature of the curriculum. That’s the essence behind it.”

Dimensions Academy, according to its website, is “designed to meet the unique educational and social/emotional needs of gifted children in grades 4-8 who have exceptional academic skills.”  This program effectively saves high-potential students from becoming disillusioned with school and subsequently dropping out, allowing those students to grow and thrive in an academic setting.

Isabel, a Dimensions Academy student who graduates in May 2012, seems to appreciate the value of studying academically rigorous material with her intellectual peers. “We have so many random intellectual discussions…You can’t get that anyplace else,” she says. Delly, a former Dimensions Academy student, agrees: “My time in Dimensions Academy was incredibly difficult, but it taught me to work hard.”

Unlike many gifted education programs, which cost thousands of dollars and effectively weeds out very bright children from impoverished families, Dimensions Academy includes students from varying ethnic and socioeconomic backgrounds. The program is 100 percent free and available to all students in grades 4-8 across the Minneapolis, Minn. metro area.

Dimensions Academy tackles issues of gifted-child social exclusion: “The benefit {of Dimensions Academy’s full time, small classroom setting} says Cash, “is that these really bright kids are surrounded by other bright kids. The importance of that is that bright kids stimulate each other’s conversations and stimulate each other’s thinking processes. And that’s great because oftentimes you’ll see that very bright kids are isolated rather than integrated because they’re the only one that thinks like them in a general education classroom. To be surrounded by your intellectual peers is beneficial in that it forces you to think at higher levels…Dimensions Academy students will tell me all of the time that they’re very much like a family.”

Dimensions Academy students Katie and Sally, when asked how Dimensions Academy changed their lives’ trajectory, reinforce Cash’s belief that Dimensions Academy was like a family.  “It helped me to make good, lasting friendships,” says Katie, who graduated from Dimensions Academy in 2007 and is now a freshman at the University of Arizona. Sally, who also graduates in May 2012, agrees: “I found that Dimensions Academy provided me with a network of close friends who were like-minded to me.”

About the Author: 17-year-old Iman Carol Fears is a member of Columbia University’s Class of 2016, where she intends to study creative writing and economics. Her work has been published in Underground Voices, Unlikely 2.0, and the Newport Review.


[1] “Why We Should Advocate for Gifted and Talented Students”, National Association of Gifted Children, 2008

[2] “Gifted Dropouts: The Who and the Why”, The University of Connecticut, Renzulli and Sunghee, 1991

Categories : K – 12 Schools


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