Update from the 2e Center for Research and Professional Development

2e Center News

By Susan Baum

July, 2018


About this Column

The 2e Center is located on the campus of Bridges Academy in Studio City, California. In this column, we share what’s happening at our center and report research findings, teaching ideas, and parenting suggestions we have found to be successful in helping 2e kids thrive.
— SB

This summer a group of educators from the U.S., Canada, and Australia gathered on the Bridges Academy campus to take part in our first annual Master Classes in 2e Education. The week-long classes provided the nearly 30 participants with concrete strategies on how to help twice-exceptional and neurodiverse learners succeed. Among the highlights of the week were these.

  • 2e Center Director Susan Baum and Hank Nicols shared strength-based, talent-focused activities with the group and provided them with a rationale for using this approach with 2e students.
  • Inaugural 2e Hall of Fame members Dennis Higgins and Elizabeth Nielson presented strategies for curriculum and instruction that proved highly successful with 2e students in the well-known program they developed for Albuquerque Public Schools.
  • Popular mathematics consultant Rachel McAnallen (“Ms. Math”) wowed the group with hands-on math activities that both challenge advanced math students and provide those who struggle with math pathways to understanding and success.

The next Master Class is scheduled for summer of 2019. Details will become available on the 2e Center website (www.bridges.edu/2e-center-events.html). For more information, contact Kim Vargas: kim.vargas@bridges.edu, 818-506-1091.     

Brains Wired Differently: Students with ADHD

By Maria Kennedy, Carmen Sevilla, and Kim Vargas

Most students want to be successful at school; and Riley, a gifted student with ADHD, is no exception. Finding a way to ensure her success and that of all students in the classroom is the goal of our education system — not an easy task with such great diversity in the classroom. However, with careful planning and the desire by educators to ensure student success, it’s a goal that can be achieved.

Meet Riley

Riley is a friendly, energetic eighth-grade girl who exhibits many of the qualities of a student with ADHD. For example:

  • She’s highly disorganized and has had difficulty completing tasks.
  • When required to sit still in class for an extended period of time, she can become talkative and disruptive.
  • Her tendency to miss details and failure to follow directions can result in struggles with math procedures, calculations, and spelling.

On the other hand, Riley has extraordinary abilities. She’s a visual-spatial thinker with superior ability to recognize patterns and see innovative solutions to problems. She’s also talented in both writing and acting, and her performances consistently demonstrate a creative flare. In addition, she has a collaborative spirit and a drive to work with anyone, which makes her well-liked by other students.

These seemingly paradoxical behaviors are present in many people with ADHD; and, unfortunately, more attention is often paid to what’s wrong with these individuals instead of what’s right. The following table, based on recent research (Archer, 2015), shows the benefits as well as the challenges that individuals with ADHD may display. Gifted students with ADHD live this paradox every day, and Riley is no different.

Challenges and Benefits of ADHD



  • Are easily distracted and inattentive
  • Have difficulty completing a task
  • Are often hyperactive and in need of stimulation and movement
  • Are impulsive and disorganized
  • Have perception differences
  • Often are creative, intuitive thinkers with a flair for innovation and out-of-the-box thinking
  • Can have high energy and enthusiasm
  • May be adventurous spirits who take risks
  • Have a need for novelty and show curiosity

Riley’s Story: In Her Own Words

I got diagnosed with ADHD when I was eight years old, unlike my older brother who was diagnosed at the age of three. My dad also has ADHD, so my mom keeps us organized.

Before attending Bridges, the word school was like death! Teachers would tell me to just focus; that’s like telling someone with asthma to just breathe.

When I arrived at Bridges, I had low self-esteem. I had bad grades and couldn’t do anything about it. I despised my teachers at my other school. They had so many rules, it was really aggravating. I had a lot of friends in the Honors Program there, but they were treated differently than I was — like they were really special because they could get their homework done. I never thought it would be possible to want to go to school again.

When I visited Bridges, I knew I could be successful there and knew this was the right place for me because it was such a small class. My visit day was good. I remember thinking the kids were nice. Now that I’m at Bridges, I’m happy because I have teachers who are my friends. They really get me.

I don’t doze off or look into space anymore because I like my classes. I never thought I was good at math, but now I can actually help my classmates in math class! And THANK GOD FOR GOOGLE CLASSROOM, where my assignments are always available! That helps me stay organized. Plus, I can do my work in advisory so I don’t have homework.

Now I hate long weekends. I just want to get back to school. Those words had never come out of my mouth before!

What Brought About this Change


How It’s Reflected in the Bridges Instructional Approach


Curriculum and instruction are differentiated (customized) to align with students’ preferred cognitive styles, learning profiles, interests, and abilities.


The identification/recognition of a student’s advanced abilities and budding interests is an on-going process that incorporates options for exploring and expressing those abilities and interests both within and outside of the curriculum.

The key to Riley’s educational transformation has been Bridges’ strength-based, talent-focused approach to learning. The table here shows what we mean when we use these terms.

An important part of adopting a talent focus is talent development — encouraging and supporting identified talents and abilities that are nurtured in their own right, not as an opening for remediation or as a reward or motivator for achievement. Two factors serve as the foundation of Bridges’ strength-based, talent-focused approach:

  • Teachers use their knowledge of students’ learning profiles to scaffold (provide necessary support in) skill development
  • Teachers give careful consideration to creating a positive classroom environment.

This approach also requires teachers to do the following:

  1. Provide a psychologically safe environment
  2. Offer strength-based choices
  3. Connect the curriculum to the real world
  4. Help students become self-aware
  5. Engage students in talent development.

Let’s see how teachers can meet these additional requirements.

1. Providing a Psychologically Safe Environment

According to Maslow (1951), a psychologically safe environment is one in which students experience a sense of belonging. A sense of belonging results from teachers making a concerted effort to get to know their students — their hopes and dreams, what puts the light in their eyes, and what challenges make it hard for them to shine.

Riley has a strong and trusting relationship with her teachers. Her work is differentiated by caring teachers who read the personalized strengths profile developed for all Bridges students. In the profile is cognitive ability information along with specific interests and talents. Riley’s profile shows that she is an intellectually curious problem solver, writer, actress, and director. Her teachers can see that she is someone who enjoys being in front of a crowd and making people laugh with her sarcastic wit. With these characteristics and with her strong verbal and superior visual-spatial ability, Riley’s love for the performing arts is no surprise.

2. Offering Strength-based Choices

Bridges teachers use student profile information to differentiate and personalize the core class learning experience. They think about and act upon the strengths and interests of each student by offering strength- and interest-based options within the curriculum to engage students and help them strengthen areas of weakness.

The school’s core curriculum is differentiated by curricular choice, allowing for students to feel empowered in their educational journey. Riley’s thirst for novel information and her intellectually curious nature led her to choose a humanities class that focused on mysteries that changed history. This class was a match for her interests, giving her the chance to imagine herself as an FBI agent researching a death. Her acceptance of the unknown, and the plethora of possibilities that result from the unknown, keep her interested and engaged in the diverse curricular topics. The motivators for her are caring teachers and peers with similar cognitive abilities, plus the opportunity to think at the complex level she craves.

3. Making Real-world Connections

The teachers help their students understand their own identity by making real-world connections with successful role models. For Riley, this led to her choosing to research a famous person with whom she could identify. Riley strives to be successful as a comedienne, forward thinker, and female role-model over time in her career goal of performing. Because of this interest, she selected to study Lucille Ball and found similarities in personality and spirit with the actress. Riley enthusiastically mentioned how Ball was one of the first women in the television industry, the first public figure in a biracial relationship both on and off screen, and the first to openly show a pregnancy on TV in her show, I Love Lucy! This research led to many conversations about girls with ADHD, how Riley herself can make a difference, and her choice to openly share her story for this article.

4. Helping Students Become Self-aware

Teachers help students develop emotional intelligence to become aware of gifts, strengths, and challenges. They show students how to use their emotional intelligence to become productive and effective architects of their own lives.

As with any typical middle school student, Riley has had her challenges with self-regulation of her actions and movements. She can become hyperactive and will ask for a break only to realize that the break from the classroom is not helping as she hoped. On one occasion, she was asked by the middle school director if maybe running some laps would help her get her energy out; and she said, “Yes!!!” Riley proceeded to run the fastest three laps around the lawn that anyone at the school had ever seen.

Upon returning, Riley and the director talked about physical body breaks as opposed to mental academic breaks. The discussion included how to communicate her needs when Riley finds herself in a state of dysregulation and previously successful strategies are not working. The discussion ended with the director reassuring Riley that she will receive support as she continues to practice learning to recognize the need to use self-regulation strategies and then applying them autonomously.

5. Engaging Students in Talent Development

Educational programs make available numerous electives to facilitate exploration and development of talents. The electives provide high-level group and/or individual experiences in special talent areas in school and beyond.

At Bridges, the middle school provides project-based week-long experiences in which students, with the support and guidance of their teacher, can collaborate to solve problems and become engaged in creative productivity. During these opportunities, students elect a cause of importance to them and are able to explore how they might make a difference in this area.

The cause Riley chose was education. Working within a group, she wrote, acted in, and directed a performance about a dystopian society that her group presented. It was a powerful piece and memorable to the audience.
This experience provided an opportunity for Riley’s love of writing, creating, and being in charge to flourish. It also gave her practice in receiving feedback from her peers and teacher. Riley showed that she was able to absorb their critiques and update her vision.

During this experience, Riley enjoyed the creative freedom to explore ideas and parameters for her script. She was also able to incorporate her strengths: her social/emotional appeal; her talents as a writer, director, and actress; and, most importantly, her collaborative skills with her peers and teacher.


Riley is in many ways a typical gifted student with ADHD. Her sometime lack of self-regulation, combined with her love of the performing arts, her passion for making others happy, and her drive to make a difference in the world, illustrate both the challenges and benefits of twice-exceptional students. Bridges’ strength-based, talent-focused approach, described in this article, worked for her; and it can produce effective instruction for many, if not all, 2e students with ADHD.

Strategies Teachers can Use

Here are some strategies teachers can use to help students with ADHD brain wiring to be successful in school.


How it Applied to Riley

Incorporate movement to help students stay focused.

Riley was allowed to run laps to burn off energy and refocus when needed.

Present stimulating content to sustain attention.

Teachers did the following:
Allowed Riley to choose the humanities class that aligned to her intellectual curiosity and use Lucille Ball as her topic
Empowered her to self-regulate.

Offer strength-based options to encourage the student to persevere.

Riley was given these opportunities:
Collaborate with peers
Write, direct, and produce a script in drama and humanities classes
Engage in areas of talent.

Create an organizational system:

  • Assignments online for easy access
  • Graphic organizers for organization of thoughts.

Riley was able to use Google Classroom to access her assignments.

Provide positive prompting.

Teachers and the administrative support team did the following:

  • Used the rapport they had developed with Riley to help her identify successful learning strategies and ways to advocate for them
  • Did frequent teacher check-ins with Riley, using humor and non-verbal cues.

Recognize academic gifts and gaps.

Based on Riley’s areas of strength and challenge, the school did the following:

  • Accelerated her in performing arts class
  • Provided support with missing math skills.



  • Archer, D. (2015). The ADHD advantage: What you thought was a diagnosis maybe your greatest strength. New York: Avery.
  • Maslow, A. H. (1958). A dynamic theory of human motivation. In C.L. Stacey & M. F. DeMartino (Eds.). Understanding human motivation, (pp. 26-47), Cleveland, Ohio: Howard Allen.


Maria Kennedy teaches in the Phoenix program at Bridges. Born in England, Maria has both a bachelor’s and master’s degree in education. She has taught in several countries around the world.


Carmen Sevilla is director of the Bridges middle school. Her areas of interest include technology and instruction. At home, she enjoys time with her three sons.



Kim Vargas is a specialist in both special ed and gifted ed. She has many roles at Bridges, and also serves as associate administrator of the 2e Center for Research and Professional Development


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