Gifted 5-year-old's family moves from Oahu to East Coast for new school

Gifted 5-year-old's family moves from Oahu to East Coast for new school
Published: Oct. 24, 2012 at 8:13 PM HST|Updated: Oct. 26, 2012 at 11:58 AM HST
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Robbie Bond
Robbie Bond
Robin Bond
Robin Bond
Michelle Bond
Michelle Bond
The Bonds chose a school in North Carolina.
The Bonds chose a school in North Carolina.
Justin Mew
Justin Mew

HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - The parents of a Kalama Valley kindergartner said they reluctantly sold their house, are looking for new jobs and moving to the East Coast to enroll their gifted son in a special school. And they fault the state for not offering enough support for extraordinarily talented students in Hawaii public schools.

Spend a few minutes with Robbie Bond, who just turned five September 11, and you'll soon discover he's no ordinary kid.

When a reporter asked Robbie what subjects he is interested in learning more about, he answered, "I'm interested in chemistry. I had my own chemistry set and I made a snowball. I mean I make potions. I'm gonna make lots of more potions when we sell the house."

Hawaii News Now visited Robbie, his father Robin and mother Michelle in their Kalama Valley home in September before it sold.

When his father asked him to solve an algebra problem he said, "One plus X equals four. That's easy. That's three."

Then there was this exchange between Robbie and his father as they played a presidential trivia game on his iPad.

Robbie: Who came after Grant?

Robin: Yeah. Hayes, Wilson, Garfield or Taft?

Robbie: Isn't it the guy with the Republican Party?

While he's in kindergarten, his parents said he tested as reading at a fourth-grade level.

His parents have noticed Robbie's extraordinary abilities from an early age, such as when they taught him baby sign language.

"By six months he was signing his first words and putting words together in phrases. Even if he did something bad, he would look straight up and start to sign, you know, 'Sorry.' And I knew that was unique to start that early," his mother Michelle Bond said.

Robbie also took just a few days to be potty trained, she said.

Michelle Bond has been in Hawaii for 18 years, having graduated from University of Hawaii-Hilo and earned a master's degree from UH Manoa.

Robbie's father Robin Bond was born and raised in Hawaii, suffered from dyslexia, got a GED high school degree here and earned an associate's degree from a community college in Washington State.

"Initially we were just told that he [Robbie] was exceptionally bright and that we were gonna find it challenging to find an education for him in Hawaii," Robin Bond said.

When they took him to a Honolulu psychologist and paid about $350 to get him tested, it was an eye opener.

"She said in 30 years at her job, which she tests for Punahou and Iolani, she'd never seen anyone score this high," Michelle Bond said. "He scored above the 99th percentile in every area. Even areas where boys aren't supposed to do well in, he scored well in those areas."

The evaluation "revealed performance in the intellectually gifted range," said Evelyn Yanagida, the Honolulu psychologist who tested Robbie, in a letter to his parents. "He has very superior skills in verbal comprehension and perceptual reasoning with superior processing speed. Essentially, what the scored indicated is that he performed better than 99 percent of his peers."

The family spent more money and took Robbie to another psychologist in Los Angeles who specializes in gifted children for further testing which confirmed Yanagida's findings, the Bonds said. Eventually, they made the painful decision to sell their Kalama Valley home and move to North Carolina, where Robbie can attend a special school for gifted kids located near Duke University.

"I know Michelle and I would like to stay here, but the things that would keep us here just simply don't outweigh the importance of having a good education for our son," Robin Bond said.

Their house sold last week and Robin and son Robbie left for North Carolina last weekend. Michelle will follow in the weeks to come. Robin, a commercial diver, and Michelle, who's a pharmaceutical representative, are looking for new jobs in the Durham, North Carolina area.

Robbie is settling in and undergoing tests at his new school, Camelot Academy, to help his new teachers develop a curriculum for him, they said.  Tuition of about $8,000 a year there is a relative bargain compared to private schools in Hawaii, which cost roughly three times that annually.  Within a few years, Camelot Academy could provide substantial financial aid or a virtual free ride, if Robbie tests in the high 90s percentiles of his age group, Michelle Bond said.

The couple researched public elementary schools in Hawaii but said they weren't satisfied with what they found.

"When I called the schools and I spoke to different resource teachers at each of the schools, they said they do not have funding anymore for gifted and talented in Hawaii," said Michelle Bond.

The Department of Education said there is no funding for statewide gifted and talented initiatives and just one educational specialist for programs for gifted students.

"We have to be very inventive," said Anna Viggiano, the DOE's educational specialist in charge of gifted and talented programs, a position she has held since 2007. Viggiano wears many hats, overseeing three other areas for the DOE in addition to gifted programs: advanced placement, learning centers and home schooling.

The state does set aside $4.7 million for 5,210 gifted Hawaii students at individual public schools, through what's called a "weighted student formula" that lets the principals at each school spend that money. Schools receive $914 for each gifted student from the DOE.

But those funds are spread among all 254 public schools across the state, not enough money to hire a full-time teacher at any one school.

"Our teachers differentiate and make changes or meet the needs of all students, be it the gifted or the more abled, whatever you call it," said Justin Mew, principal of Niu Valley Middle School.

His is the only public middle school in the state with a rigorous International Baccalaureate curriculum requiring students to take eight courses a semester, including foreign language, technology and the arts. Niu Valley Middle School is the exception, rather than the rule when it comes to programs for the gifted within the DOE.

DOE officials said they trained dozens of teachers through online courses the last two summers about how to identify gifted students and meet their needs.

"There are gifted students who learn in different ways. And we need to provide for that. Yes. And it's the teacher that can identify this and provide," Mew said.

"Once you find the gifted kids and engage them in something that's exciting for them, they become fabulous students," Viggiano said.

She said if parents work with principals, a lot can happen.

"They make changes and they help out the gifted students. It's the parents' responsibility to work with the school as collaborators rather than accusers," Viggiano said.

DOE officials pointed out that the University of Hawaii College of Education does not offer any courses geared toward evaluating and teaching gifted students.

Attorney Eric Seitz was one of two lead attorneys who sued the state and forced DOE to provide special services to students with learning disabilities.

But he said there are no federal or state mandates to force services for high-performance students.

"There's no requirement similar to, for example special education or free lunches or those kinds of things, there's no requirement for any school district to provide special programs for gifted children," Seitz said.

Seitz said the DOE is constrained by a lack of money.

"And that's really sad because that means that kids who are gifted are consigned to be bored in school or to go to private schools," Seitz added.

But the Bonds said private schools in Hawaii generally prohibit gifted students from skipping more than two grades, because it would be difficult for younger kids to socialize with much older counterparts.

So that's why they selected a school in North Carolina, where Robbie will be in kindergarten with other gifted kids his age and all the teachers have special certificates and training in teaching gifted students.  They decided the lower cost of living made the Durham area a good place to live, especially since they lost money on the sale of their home in Hawaii.

But they are sad they don't feel Hawaii's education system allowed them to remain in the islands.

"The state has a responsibility to teach every child or at least give an opportunity to teach every child. In this case, we don't have that," Robin Bond said.

Michelle Bond added: "It's hard for me to understand why the state of Hawaii provides for the lower end of the spectrum but not the higher end of the spectrum."

Even though Robbie likes chemistry and solves algebra problems, when a reporter asked what he's most excited about at his new school on the mainland, he sounded like any other five year old.

"It's gonna have a better playground," he said.

Copyright 2012 Hawaii News Now.  All rights reserved.