Dr. Monica Meadows, a gifted and talented facilitator for the Pulaski County Special School District, is making a difference by sharing her passion for gifted and talented education with the community.
As the first person in their family to graduate from college, Meadows’ parents were so determined that she do well in college that they both took on second jobs so she would not have to work during her first two years of college.
“It’s a good feeling for my family that I went to college and earned a degree,” she said. “It was something my parents always encouraged me to do. I think it has changed the course that my life has gone because I have a college degree. My mom was always so encouraging that even though I’m the first one to go to college, it was exciting for everyone when I graduated. I don’t think the idea of not continuing my studies after high school ever crossed my mind because she encouraged me from day one.”
After completing a Bachelor of Science in Education degree from the University of Central Arkansas, Meadows began her career as a science teacher at Blytheville High School. After she became the science teacher at Wilbur Mills University Studies High School, Meadows had the opportunity to teach in the gifted and talented education program so she decided to head back to school to pursue the nine-credit hour requirement in graduate studies.
At the UA Little Rock Jodie Mahony Center for Gifted Education, Meadows found a true friend, advisor, and mentor in Dr. Ann Robinson, the center’s director, who ultimately convinced Meadows to complete a graduate certificate, master’s degree, and doctorate at UA Little Rock.
“In my family, the ultimate goal was to get a bachelor’s degree, and I never thought about anything else,” she said. “Dr. Ann Robinson really saw something in me that I didn’t see in myself. Having strong professors and advisors really played a key role in my life.”
Meadows has now been teaching for nearly two decades, and she’s no longer the only person in her family to earn a college degree.
“When I finished my master’s degree, I encouraged my father to go to school,” Meadows said. “He actually got his bachelor’s degree in his mid-50s. He had been toying around with the idea for a while, and his job encouraged him by helping pay for his degree.”
As a gifted and talented educator, Meadows said it’s important to identify and motivate these special students. If students are not being challenged in school, this can lead to boredom, behavioral challenges, and dropping out of school.
“Our gifted and talented students think a little differently,” she said. “They are able to process information faster, and they need challenges and encouragement to meet their needs just like any other student. People sometimes think our gifted and smart kids will be okay no matter what, but that’s not the case. They need interventions, support and enrichment and encouragement just like any other kid.”
She also continues to conduct research with Dr. Robinson. A book chapter the pair wrote is part of a book, “Unlocking Potential: Identifying and Serving Gifted Students from Low-Income Households,” that was recently selected as the 2021 Book of the Year Award by the National Association for Gifted Children.
In the summertime, Meadows also works as an AP course assistant for the Jodie Mahony Center. She also serves on the board of directors for the Arkansans for Gifted and Talented Education as the parent affiliate director, an apt position as Meadows has now come full circle with two teenage daughters who are both in gifted and talented education programs.
“I always make sure my kids are getting the classes they need so they don’t get bored,” Meadows said. “Just being a mom of two teenagers, I thought I had a lot of work when they were younger and I was in college. They are very involved in school. My husband and I are both educators, and we want them to be well rounded and be involved in activities and the arts and music.”
Meadows suspects her own children will go on to earn graduate degrees as they have seen both their parents earn advanced degrees while working full time and raising a family.
“My husband, Robert Meadows, is also getting his master’s degree at UA Little Rock,” she said. “He decided he needed his master’s degree after I got my doctorate. He is getting his master’s degree in learning systems and educational technology. He loves this program so far and finds a lot of things that are useful for a music teacher, especially with the shift to offering online and hybrid courses. There’s been a lot of things he’s been able to adapt for his music classes.”
Meadows’ advice for other first-generation college students is to pave your own road if you want to be successful.
“You can do whatever you set your mind to,” Meadows said. “It doesn’t matter what others have done before you. When I started my bachelor’s degree, I never thought I would get a master’s, let alone a doctorate. I would literally do my school work while sitting and rocking a baby in a chair. Where there’s a will, there’s a way. You can do it as long as you have the support and drive and time management to see it through.”