Unique high school for gifted kids gets scholarships

Students (from left) Deja Driver, Destiny Costa, Derisha Driver and Tamara Paled check out the science lab at The Dinoff School in Griffin, Georgia’s only high school with its entire curriculum designed for gifted students. The new school has now received $1 million in scholarship funding that will pay the full tuition for those meeting the income criteria. Photo/Ben Nelms.

It is one of a kind in Georgia. The Dinoff School in Griffin opened its doors recently as the only high school in the state with a curriculum — that’s every class in every grade level — designed specifically for gifted students.

The school late last week found itself the recipient of approximately $1 million in scholarship money that will pay the full tuition for families that would otherwise not be able to afford the school.

To qualify for the school, students must have already tested out as gifted, either through their public school or according to Georgia standards using prescribed testing methodologies, said Headmaster and south Fayette County resident Lesley Dinoff, also the mother of a gifted child.

Dinoff said the need for such a school is clearly present. And while undertaking the task of starting Georgia’s only high school for gifted students would seem a risky endeavor to some, Dinoff said it was a risk worth taking.

“Four to 10 percent of students are gifted, according to the American Psychological Association, yet only $2 out of every $100 dollars for school funding in Georgia goes to gifted programs,” Dinoff said. “And because of that lack of funding, children in public schools can’t always be served in gifted classes. But here, all of our classes are for children that test out as gifted.”

Beyond the issue of insufficient taxpayer funding for education, Dinoff said gifted students sometimes face other challenges. The National Association for Gifted Children says that 20 percent of gifted kids drop out of school before graduating due to boredom and other factors, Dinoff said.

There is yet another factor that can be even more prohibitive. While the tuition was reduced from $700 per month to the current $500, that amount was still out of the reach of the families of many gifted students. But that is no longer the case. Dinoff said one of the school’s teachers had helped secure approximately $1 million to fund the full tuition for children that would not have been able to pay that cost. Announced last week, those funds come from federal and corporate sources and will fund up to 100 students each year, she explained.

Dinoff said the criteria for the scholarships require that the student must qualify for free lunches, and with parents showing proof of income.

The new school is already making a name for itself due to its unique offerings and the phone calls are coming from as far away as Alpharetta. But with the new scholarship funds, those dollars will open doors for children greatly in need of the curriculum, children who would not have been able to access that type of educational opportunity due to the prohibition of tuition expenses, Dinoff said.

“Money has been a barrier to a lot of people,” said Dinoff. “But if the child is truly gifted and wants to come here, and if the dollars are holding them back, now they can come here.”

And while the high school curriculum at the school crosses the spectrum in terms of Georgia requirements, The Dinoff School puts its focus on science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

But the high school is just the beginning. Dinoff said the school is expecting to expand next year to provide curriculum for gifted students in grades K-12.

The school is housed in an 18,000 square-foot portion of an 80,000 square-foot former sewing mill on 5th Street just beyond downtown Griffin. The beautifully renovated space used by the school was designed to look like a building on a college campus rather than a high school. So in keeping with that mindset the building retained its brick façade and hardwood floors.

As stated on the school’s website, Dinoff noted that some in the community may perceive gifted programs as elitist. “However, it is neither fair nor reasonable to provide equal educational programming and hold equal expectations for all students, regardless of their abilities. Gifted students need services and activities not ordinarily provided by schools in order to fully develop those capabilities. By providing enrichment and acceleration experiences for gifted students, we are providing them with what they need, not superfluous or unnecessary education,” she said.

Dinoff said the school recognizes that students who possess exceptional gifts and talents should be granted the direction, time, encouragement, and resources to maximize their potential, whether it be in the area of intellect, specific academics, creativity, or leadership.

Administrators, teachers, counselors and facilitators will work with parents, students, and the community to identify gifted and talented students from all backgrounds. The Dinoff School will offer these students the differentiated instruction and opportunities they need in order to maximize their talents, Dinoff said.

The Dinoff School is located at 128 North 5th Street in Griffin. For more information call 678-603-1052 or visit www.thedinoffschool.com.