HiCap Crash: the pressure of being ‘highly capable’

by Eliana Megargee, Assistant Art Director

When I was younger, I had many happy memories of the Highly Capable program (HiCap.) I can remember first taking the test in first grade to see if I qualified for the advanced learning that HiCap offered, not quite sure why I was there, but in awe of the vastness of Meridian Park Elementary School all the same. I remember feeling so relieved to move to that school in fourth grade, finally feeling like I was being equally challenged by my teachers and classmates. I remember loving the “different” way we learned, from our intensive unit on folk music group Peter, Paul and Mary to our complete performance of Shakespeare’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” and everything in between. 

But then I got to middle school. And ever since then, HiCap meant something different to me. It meant eye rolls and harsh accusations about “HiCap kids.” It meant an overwhelming feeling of dread the first time I got a B. It meant not knowing what to do now that my neurodivergent “gifted kid” self had to learn in a normal environment with all sorts of people. 

The burnout I feel being a HiCap kid in my junior year of high school is almost completely unbearable. The realization that after being called special my whole life, I’m actually just… average, if anything, is a difficult one to come to terms with. 

And I don’t mean to sound pretentious, because I don’t think HiCap ever led me to actually believe I was better than anyone else. But it has led me to now believe that I’m worse than everyone else, whether or not that may be true. 

It’s hard to look people in the eye when telling them that yes, you used to read five books a week as a kid, but no, it really is impossible to read a book now due to piled up homework, wandering focus, and a lack of motivation. It’s hard to explain to people that you just don’t enjoy learning the way you used to, that school is about making it through doing the bare minimum, because if you try to do more than that the stress might just break you. 

I know that I’m not alone in feeling this way. When I come across my former HiCap peers, they’re the ones overwhelmed with AP classes, the ones beating themselves up over an A-, the ones with concerningly dark circles under their eyes.

Art by Kate Grutz

But despite the prevalence of this issue, it’s rarely talked about beyond the occasional joke on the matter. It needs to be addressed, by teachers and by other students.

At a time like this, everyone is struggling with being burnt out, and none more so than those who were once considered gifted. And yet, we still struggle, still overwork ourselves, are still made to feel bad about a passing grade, and get little support from those around us. 

So, consider this my cry for help, on behalf of all the old HiCap kids who are struggling like I am. We are burnt out, and we are tired, and we are ready to be done with this whole “gifted kid” thing. All I can hope for myself now is that I can finish high school without too much more suffering.