MARCH 2015
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By Robert A.G. LeVine

For those in a hurry, slowing down seems counterproductive. Lost in the pursuit of a college degree and a good job is the recognition that the true value of higher education is actually education, not job preparation. Yet college is an evolutionary moment, and learning is not limited to taking classes or training for a job.

A gap year is an opportunity to delay college by one year. This is not “taking time off”; it is adding unique opportunity to a holistic education. Students may travel, study, research, volunteer, or do whatever they envision might be useful to their personal growth.

Gap years are becoming increasingly popular, recognized by the finest colleges as an extremely valuable pursuit. Harvard advocates gap years; it even has a “Z-List” for students to defer their studies and a website to guide them. Princeton has an official “Bridge Year Program” and a student led Gap-Year Network. Tufts University offers a fully-funded “1+4” program. Other highly-selective colleges that offer gap years include Yale, MIT, Johns Hopkins, Dartmouth, Columbia, NYU, UPenn, Carnegie Mellon, William & Mary, Washington & Lee, Emory, Georgia Tech, even New College in Sarasota. There must be something worthwhile about gap years.

Here are the perspectives of three students enjoying gap years. One is taking time away from Harvard, another deferring admission to the University of Chicago, and the third starting at NYU next year. What are their experiences?

S.T. worked in a startup company in Boston and interned for a consulting company in Shanghai. While learning much about real-world business, she “also learned one of the most important things that changes how I approach things: I learned more about myself. I feel like I’m more of an explorer in opportunity than I was before.”

K.Z. told us about her gap year: “Taking the time to find out what you want to do with your life and where you want to be after college is an important step many students skip over. Too often, high school seems like the beginning of a rocket launch:  we strap in, count down and shove off ... but no one really knows what they want to do once they are in the air. Students are rushed into leaving the atmosphere before they know what planet they want to end up on. It's like starting a road trip without a map or trying to build something without reading the instructions first. My gap year gave me some much needed time to learn outside the limits of a classroom about the world and about myself. Gap years give students perspective and time to set a trajectory for their rocket launch.”

J.K. is taking his gap year to learn more about business and finance, his intended major. He has interviewed experienced financial experts; conducted independent research into business necessities such as organizational culture, marketing and buyer psychology; has taught himself trading regimen; and plans to travel not only to experience the world, but to observe and investigate the business world from foreign perspectives. In just a few months, he sees an evolutionary change in his attitude towards education, career and life. “I now see education as more than the mere culmination of classes that lead to a diploma. I have begun to develop critical, creative, and even unconventional thinking with regards to finding solutions. I find possibilities rather than look for the negative. I see and capitalize on opportunity more often and am much more willing to try things instead of using the potential of failure as an excuse for inaction. Because of my gap year, I can no longer imagine a day where I stop learning through experience, whether through internship, work or simply daily life experiences.”

Gap years may not suit every student, but the philosophy to inquire actively and become sophisticated and intelligent about one’s own abilities and future is universally valuable.

Robert A.G. Levine, president of Selective College Consulting Inc., can be reached at (813) 391-3760, email or visit



Capturing Culture through Comic books

By Anu Varma Panchal

From Judy Moody and Flat Stanley to Harry Potter and Katniss Everdeen, fictional heroes and heroines are household names for those of us with little bookworms at home. However, thanks to one beloved Indian resource, my kids are equally familiar with Akbar, Birbal, Rani of Jhansi and Noor Jahan.

Amar Chitra Katha. The three words, which translate roughly to “Eternal Illustrated Stories,” conjure up precious childhood memories of visits to India; of glorious hours spent lying under a ceiling fan or snug in a striped easy-chair on a verandah, immersed in the eye popping illustrations and dramatic storylines of the world of Indian mythology, history and fable. I rode into battle with Sultana Razia, raged at the Kauravas with Draupadi, sang my way to enlightenment with Meerabai and outwitted nefarious rascals as a clever dancing girl, oblivious to the heat, mosquitoes or monsoon rains that poured down outside into the steamy Kerala afternoons.

To those unfamiliar with the collection, Amar Chitra Katha bills itself as “India’s favorite storyteller.” Founded in 1967 by scientist and newspaperman Anant Pai, the series has reintroduced millions of Indian children to their own history and folklore through a colorful comic book format. The story goes that Pai started the line after hearing young Indian students on a Doordarshan quiz show zoom through questions about Greek mythology and Western classics, but stumble when asked: “In the Ramayana, who was the mother of Ram?”

The Ramayana is just one of the nearly 400 titles that ACK now has to its credit. The comics are organized by theme: Epics & Mythology, Fables & Humor, Visionaries, Indian Classics and Bravehearts.

My 6-year-old loves the Panchatantra and Jataka Tales; she chuckles through the capers of the deer, crocodiles and monkeys, and the pranks of village children and the wily pundits they love to outsmart. My 10-year-old is drawn to the sweeping epics and legends that don’t hold back on the dramatic ups and downs of duty, sacrifice and love. Both adore the antics of Akbar and Birbal and Tenali Raman, and are as equally captivated by the illustrations — the lavish costumes, palace interiors of yesteryear and lush jungles — as by the stories.

However, not everything translates. The language can swing from formal and stilted to cartoonish, which can confuse our kids who are so used to levelled and targeted reading material. My daughters are perplexed by courtesans, the propensity of kings to gamble away their thrones (and on occasion, wives) and why Padmini jumped in a fire. They are upset when people outwit animals, and are horrified by violent tales such as Angulimala, which involves a necklace of fingers and did not (spoiler alert) end well. However, when poor Nala and Damayanti are driven into a forest after losing their kingdom and Nala tragically loses even his clothes to a flock of birds, the girls were coldly unmoved by his plight and hysterical with laughter. As for some of the asuras, their lurid images have more than once caused a disturbed child to materialize by my bedside at night.

Still, these comics hold an inviolable place in the bookshelves in our house. Kids always clamor for a story, and maybe they’re on to something. From cave paintings to mommy blogs, our narratives tell and reinforce the story of us long after we are gone. Far in time and place from our own childhoods and without the casual proximity of extended family, it can be disheartening to seek the reflection of our stories in our children’s lives. Sometimes, it’s the simplest things that work, and I’ll always be grateful for these comic books that, in all their gaudy glory, help connect our children to a millennia-long narrative that answers a small part of the question of who they are today.

Anu Varma Panchal is a mother of two and owner of


Identifying the genius in your child

Kimberly Wilson

bY kimberly wilson

Parents often say to me, “I think my child is really smart” followed by the statement, “But then again I am his/her parent and I am biased.” I am here to remind you, as a parent you are your child’s very first educator. If you think your child is very bright, more than likely, they are! No one knows your precious wonder better than you.

Sadly, there is not a great deal of formal assessment tools for the young genius. Additionally, most young children will not open up to an individual they have just met in order to score accurately on a psych evaluation. But that doesn’t mean that you have to wait until age 5 or 6 to get a good read on your child’s chances at having higher level abilities.

Numerous studies show the critical age for maximizing brain development is birth through age 3. (85 percent of a child’s core brain structure is formed by age 3) With proper stimulation, a child’s brain can be taught to perform at higher levels, resulting in higher intelligence quotients. When young high-ability children are placed in classrooms that are designed for low or average-ability students, they typically experience boredom, frustration and decreased motivation. While gifted students do have an extraordinary level of potential and ability, their high aptitude for learning can easily go to waste if it is not fostered properly. This makes the identification of young geniuses critical. 

Identification is actually easier than you think if you know what you are looking for. Oftentimes, I can identify a child as gifted just by speaking with their parents regarding some of the child’s behavior traits. Below are a few of the questions to ask yourself when determining a child’s propensity towards giftedness:

Does your child:

How many did you identify with? If you found yourself recognizing more than less of these characteristics, get ready! As parents, we are the very best advocates for our children. To help your child reach their maximum potential, seek out educational opportunities that are structured specifically for the highly able. Recognizing your child functions on a different “playing field” and needs an innovative approach to capitalize on their maximum potential is the first step to success.

Enjoy the journey; the future is in your hands!

Kimberly Wilson is the Director of Innovation at Lutz Learning Center. She can be reached at (813) 949-3484 or visit

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