By Amanda O'Rourke
Without the Governor's Schools of Excellence, Danville native Andy Mahoney believes his life would have taken a different path.
"If I never would have had the opportunity, I never could have made the impact on the world that I made today," Mahoney said.
Mahoney was reacting to news that Gov. Edward G. Rendell is considering eliminating the Governor's School of Excellence to save the state $3.2 million.
Sponsored by the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania Department of Education, the Pennsylvania Governor's Schools of Excellence are highly competitive, five-week-long summer residential programs on college campuses geared toward artistically or academically talented high school students, including the gifted.
Eighteen Valley students participated in the program last year.
The eight Governor's Schools and their host campuses are arts, Mercyhurst College, Erie; sciences, Carnegie Mellon University, Pittsburgh; international studies, University of Pittsburgh; agricultural sciences, Pennsylvania State University, State College; teaching, Millersville University, Lancaster; health care, University of Pittsburgh; information, society and technology, Drexel University, Philadelphia; and global entrepreneurship, Lehigh University, Bethlehem.
A 1979 graduate of Danville High School, Mahoney attended the Governor's School for the Arts in 1977 at Bucknell University.
It was an experience, he said, that shaped the way he looked at the world for the rest of his life.
"The experience I had at the governor's school was the foundation for all of the achievements I have currently in my life," Mahoney said. "It gives you a process where you can affiliate with others of like-minded uniqueness and ability, For me, it was the first time in my life I was able to be in a ... group of peers that I could affiliate with that could help me accept who I was."
The experience led Mahoney to become a professional counselor, a marriage and family therapist and the director of The Counseling and Consultation Practice of Andrew S. Mahoney, a counseling center for the gifted and talented in Pittsburgh. He also maintains a consulting practice in Chicago and is a professional pastel artist.
For more than 20 years, he has explored, researched and developed frameworks for the counseling, psychotherapy, underachievement and identity formation of gifted and talented individuals, making him a nationally recognized speaker and practitioner in this specialty area.
"We know ... when gifted children don't get what they need (differentiated service), they don't flourish," Mahoney said.
Claudia Ebeling, coordinator of public information systems for the Pennsylvania Governor's Schools of Excellence, said the program strives to provide students of exceptional talent the education they need through sustained inquiry, meaning there are no class bells.
"A day in a governor's school begins at 7 a.m. with breakfast and then you move on to your class and you're going until curfew," Ebeling said.
Elimination of the Governor's Schools of Excellence, a flagship program that led to the development of other, similar programs throughout the country, is contrary to the common refrain heard from so many politicians, Mahoney said.
"We talk on one hand about our best and our brightest' and we certainly like to prostitute their abilities, but when it comes down to providing the differentiated service they need, we talk a different walk," Mahoney said. "Human capital has to be developed early on if we want to maximize its potential."
The Pennsylvania Governor's Schools of Excellence count more than 18,000 alumni, including actor Kevin Bacon, class of 1974, Pulitzer Prize-winning composer Aaron Jay Kernis, class of 1975, and Alice Seebold, class of 1979, author of the critically acclaimed novel, "The Lovely Bones."
"What the governor's school does is it gives kids an opportunity to just learn with master teachers and just find their way in their lives and build the blocks they need to have the courage and skills and knowledge to go as far as possible," Ebeling said. "They learn to dream big at governor's school."