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Richmond parents demand resumption of gifted student program

Parents are concerned a one-year pause will result in the 30-year-old program being shut down
A petition to resume the UTP admission process has gathered more than 1,000 names to date. Archive photo

A group of Richmond parents are urging the province and the Vancouver School Board (VSB) to resume admissions into a program for gifted students.

The University Transition Program (UTP) enrols 20 gifted students aged 13-15 each year and offers a two-year preparation program for early entry to university.

Those selected can enter UBC following the completion of the program instead of completing five years of regular high school.

However, on Jan. 26, the program announced it would conduct a formal review after concerns over students’ mental health were brought to their attention.

Meanwhile, the admission process for the 2024-2025 school year was halted.

This has raised great concerns among parents of current students and students who have applied or are interested in applying.

“The unilateral pause in admissions has placed the futures of numerous talented individuals in jeopardy,” said Richmond resident Irene Yu whose son attends UTP, in a letter on behalf of the UTP Parent Advisory Council (PAC).

“We condemn this decision as unjust and demand an immediate resumption of admissions to prevent further harm to potential students' educational and personal development.”

Wendy Xie, a parent whose child has applied to the program this year, also shared her frustration with the Richmond News over the decision to stop the admission process that had already started.

“No program is perfect. While reviewing and making improvements in response to concerns is reasonable… review and admission are distinct processes with no inherent conflicts,” she said.

A petition was started on Feb. 23 to resume the UTP admission process and it has gathered more than 1,000 names to date.

Special program essential for gifted students: Parents

Many Richmond parents are concerned that a one-year pause of the program will eventually lead to its shutdown after 30 years, similar to what happened to VSB’s multi-age cluster classes (MACC), which provided academic enrichment to high IQ students in Grades 4 to 7.

In 2021, VSB changed the year-round MACC program to a series of six-week part-time sessions and increased capacity by nearly 10 times annually, stating "segregating learners with a gifted designation among themselves does not develop a well-rounded student."

However, Yu said programs such as UTP are not meant to segregate certain students from their peers, but to cater to the unique needs of “neurodiverse and profoundly gifted students” who may face "immense difficulties" in the regular school system.

“Most of these children found it hard to fit in the mainstream programs leading to issues like stress, anxiety, and solitude,” said Yu.

“UTP is the only place where our children found teachers that understand their unique learning style, and they learned to discover more about themselves.”

Xie said programs for gifted students are not elite educational programs as some may think but special needs ones.

“These gifted students should be supported as what we do for other special needs students, like autism, ADHD, learning disabilities, etc.,” she said.

In a response to Glacier Media in early February, the Ministry of Education and Child Care stated “no decisions about the future of the program will be made until the program review is complete.”

“For privacy reasons, we are not able to provide more information at this time. We appreciate everyone’s patience while this process continues,” the statement said.

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