When Journey Dixon was ready to start kindergarten, her parents explored several schools in the Charlotte area, eager to find the best fit. Her mother, Dr. Shamieka Dixon, described her daughter as precocious, a young learner who could easily get bored if not challenged academically.
After discussions with her husband, the couple chose Metrolina Regional Scholars Academy, a public charter school catering to gifted children.
“I knew my daughter was bright, but I don’t know if I would have called her gifted,” Dr. Dixon recalled. “But I’ve since learned to rethink how we think of that word.”
Located in southwest Charlotte on Seventy-seven Center Drive, Metrolina Regional Scholars Academy is a charter school catering to highly gifted students in grades K-8. Journey, now fourteen and a freshman at Myers Park High School, graduated from the Scholars Academy in 2023, and her younger sister, Phoenix, is now a 5th grader there.
Dr. Dixon and her husband, Malik Dixon, say the school nourished and challenged both daughters, catering to their distinct personalities and learning styles.
“Scholars Academy is the best-kept secret in Charlotte,” said Dr. Dixon, an adolescent medicine physician at Atrium Health.
Support for every need
Founded in 2000, Scholars Academy’s mission is to serve the social, emotional, and intellectual needs of highly gifted children. When those needs are unmet, school officials say, gifted students may face an elevated risk of developing social and emotional problems. Highly gifted children from disadvantaged backgrounds may be especially at risk.
As a charter school, Scholars Academy gets public money for each enrolled student, and parents pay no tuition for their children to attend. The application process includes an IQ test, and if a student is determined to be a qualified applicant, they are entered into a lottery system.
The school operates under the philosophy that gifted children learn differently than other children and that they benefit from more than accelerated coursework. For example, students attending Scholars Academy get ample time for discovery, exploration, creativity, and critical thinking. Students also engage in project-based learning and take deep dives into topics of interest.
Most students at Scholars are learning at least one grade level ahead of their chronological age, said Alicia Gozycki, the school’s marketing and admissions director. But that doesn’t mean every student is gifted across all academic subjects.
“Giftedness looks different in every child,” said Malik Dixon, a trial lawyer who serves on the Academy’s board of directors.
With 398 enrolled students and 178 children on a waitlist, the school’s growth plans include expanding to serve more families. They also include reaching out to more Black families, especially those who may be unaware of the school or unsure whether their child would qualify as gifted.
“The long-term goal of the school is to be able to serve more highly gifted children,” Gozycki said. “We know from our waitlist of qualified applicants that more children are ready to benefit from a program directly tailored to their needs.”
More Than Academics
In addition to academics, Scholars Academy offers classes and resources to support social and emotional learning for both parents and children. That’s especially important, Gozycki says, noting that a child who is academically advanced may not be emotionally or socially advanced and that those skills may even lag behind their chronological age.
“Gifted individuals can also show greater tendencies toward perfectionism, anxiety, and/or existential depression,” she said. “At Scholars Academy, we support the whole gifted child, and in doing so, we encourage our students to be intellectually engaged, socially aware, and emotionally confident. This sets them up for success once they leave our halls and move on to high school and beyond.
Dr. Dixon said she likes how the school serves students in elementary and middle school and the continuity that it offers for students. She also appreciates how the school offers resources for parents.
“It can be challenging raising gifted children,” she said. “It’s about supporting the kids where they are, learning how to meet your child where they are.”
At the Dixon home, a 4-foot-tall model of DNA stands in the house, a project from Journey’s 8th grade. Phoenix is currently making a model of a plant cell.
The Dixons said they appreciated how Scholars Academy worked with Journey and her 8th-grade classmates to prepare them for transitioning to a new school. At Myers Park High, Journey started her freshman year with new friends while retaining friends made at Scholars Academy. She recently attended her high school’s homecoming dance with some of the new friends she has made.
“Our children have really enjoyed themselves,” Malik Dixon said of the Scholars Academy. “The school recognizes that children are distinctly different. I’ve served in different volunteer capacities, and I’ve had a good experience with the school community at large. Overall, it’s been an excellent experience.”
There will be a virtual Q&A session on Nov. 15. You can learn more information here.