Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Spring Branch ISD School for Highly Gifted Students opens its doors

- Reprinted from the SBISD STARNews

The nostalgic image of the one-room schoolhouse might be one way to look at what 36 students in kindergarten through the fourth-grade are experiencing as the inaugural learners in the Spring Branch ISD School for Highly Gifted Students.

Don’t be fooled by the image. The pace of learning and the mind power at this new school will knock your socks off. With the Aug. 26 opening of the School for Highly Gifted Students, the Houston region has its first public elementary program designed especially for highly gifted children.

This program is another signal that SBISD is committed to meeting the educational needs of all students and to providing choice to students across the district. The new school operates at Valley Oaks Elementary School’s transition site.

Thirty-six children meet daily in a big windowed classroom along with three instructors. Both group and individual activities are held in language arts, social studies, science and mathematics. There are no one-room schoolhouse chalkboards and McGuffey Readers, of course. Instead, the students here may work with digital laptops, Kindles, Lego Robotics and Bee-Bot programmable robots. Students work in a non-graded, advanced learning setting that puts a premium on meeting the academic and social needs of highly, exceptionally and profoundly gifted children.

“I took this teaching job because working with this group of students gives me a chance to continue my professional growth in a unique area of education,” language arts teacher Sally Craddock says. She has taught 21 years in SBISD. “I’ve studied gifted and highly gifted children for a long time. Now, I finally get to work directly with them in a great setting,” science teacher Rebecca King says.

A Montgomery County resident, she graduated from Spring Woods High School and then later sent three children through SBISD schools. She has made plans to live with her sister-in-law in the Houston Heights during the work week to make her commuting easier. That’s how desirable this teaching opportunity was for her.

The new school’s director, Lynda Maxwell, is living a dream, too. Frostwood Elementary School principal for many years, she served most recently as district director of curriculum and instruction. “Gifted education has always been my passion,” she says simply. The School for Highly Gifted Students was first recommended in 2005 by a task force, and then once again two years ago. With Board of Trustees approval, it joins a few similar programs nationwide.

There are only a few private schools specializing in meeting the needs of gifted students, and programs for highly gifted students are rare. The inaugural class includes qualifying students in kindergarten through fourth grade. Each year, another grade will be added in the school-within-a-school format. In several years, a secondary campus has been proposed that would lead to high school graduates.

To qualify for the program, students had to be SBISD residents, identified as highly gifted, and be chosen through a lottery process. An IQ score of 145 or more on two or more tested areas was one requirement. For kindergarten, children had to read at a mid-first-grade level to qualify for consideration.

The first-year class includes students from a variety of SBISD campuses as well as some former home schooled students. Twenty-two boys and 14 girls are enrolled this year. School leaders and staff are committed to providing top individualized instruction at the appropriate pace, depth and complexity needed by all students. This is both a goal and a challenge, leaders say.

“You have to meet three needs of gifted students,” Director Maxwell told a reporter recently. “They have to have time to work alone. They have to have time to work with others who have the same abilities, and they need time with same-age peers.” Highly gifted students will interact with their Valley Oaks Elementary peers in music and art classes, and in other campus-wide peer activities.

Director Maxwell and teachers have been trained in a language arts and social studies curriculum developed by gifted education leaders at The College of Willam & Mary in Virginia. Educational Programming for Gifted Youth, also known as EPGY, provides math and science curriculum that is supported by Stanford University. “All of the children in this program are unique.

A student may be gifted in one area, and a regular third- or fourth-grader in another area,” Director Maxwell says. “There are challenges involved with children who accelerate like our students. We want to be there to support and to help them throughout their time with us.

We’re all very excited.” “We’re super excited,” says math teacher Julie Sirianni, who taught eighth-grade math and algebra at Spring Oaks and Spring Woods middle schools. “We’re really looking forward to seeing how the students will move through the curriculum. My hope, and my fear, is that I will be challenging enough!”

To learn more about this program and other district options, visit the Student Choice website: http://cms.springbranchisd.com/administration/home/elementarysecondaryadministration/forparents/studentchoice/tabid/26966/default.aspx


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