2010-07-22 / Schools

All students expected to benefit from new gifted and talented program

BY JENNIFER KOHLHEPP Staff Writer

ALLENTOWN — The retirement of one teacher has freed up funding to expand the gifted and talented program in the Upper Freehold Regional School District.

To devise the new program, a committee of administrators, teachers and other school community members reviewed various definitions of giftedness.

The state of New Jersey defines gifted students as “those exceptionally able students who possess or demonstrate high levels of ability … when compared to their chronological peers.” However, other definitions of giftedness presented by educators and psychologists with expertise in gifted education helped the school district develop a different philosophy about giftedness.

The school district’s philosophy is that all students can demonstrate and develop exceptional abilities in a wide variety of areas that society values. The new gifted and talented program would seek to develop the multiple intelligences in all students through reading, writing, math, music, art, science and service to others. The program would provide all students with opportunities to discover and explore new areas of interest, experiences and strategies that promote increased activity and better problem solving.

Moreover, the program would provide students showing exceptional abilities with learning experiences to enhance their intellectual power, creative expression and sense of self. The program would offer enriching experiences in and beyond the classroom, opportunities to learn with like-minded peers, and social and emotional affirmation and support to these students.

The school-wide component of the program provides differentiation in the classroom, which includes tiered homework, and varied challenge problems and projects. This component would also offer enrichment experiences outside of the classroom, such as assemblies, guest speakers, field trips, clubs contests, elective courses, intramurals and arts involvement.

The district would also create a “Talent Pool with a Revolving Door.” This portion of the new program would provide students in K-4 with “Mindful Missions,” which are six, six-week cycles of learning activities. Some students would participate in all six cycles while others would revolve in and out. Students in grades five through eight would participate in national and international contests and other programs facilitated by teachers. Students in grades nine through 12 would have opportunities to participate in mock trial, teen arts festivals, science league and the youth leadership conference.

Since some K-12 students may be learning at advanced levels, the schools would offer advanced and specialized coursework. Math enrichment courses would include “Math for All Minds” in grades K-2. Two to three times a year, students grouped by skill level would focus on real-life math problems. Grades three through five would have an advanced level math pullout program for students ready to learn at a faster pace. The math enrichment for grades six and seven would be determined in 2011. Eighth-graders could take algebra in lieu of eight-grade math, which would lead to honors geometry at the high school. Grades nine through 12 would continue to have honors, Advanced Placement, college and independent math study options.

The school district will assess students for each tier of the gifted and talented program. Differentiation in the classroom would be based on tests, running records, rubrics, observations, portfolios and task performance. Enrichment beyond the classroom would be provided for all students, with both self-selected and permissionnecessary options. Students in the talent pool would be selected via a rubric of gifted behaviors, reading and writing skills, teacher recommendations, task performance and test scores. At the high school level, talent pool students would be selected based on interest and interview.

Advancement beyond the grade level, which the district considers rare, would require teacher recommendation, high performance on tests and beyond-grade-level assessments, writing samples and portfolios. Honors and advanced placement criteria include teacher recommendation, “A” grades in prerequisite courses, and advanced proficient scores on state tests.

For the math enrichment component of the program, students would be pretested in math areas that “Math for All Minds” focuses on. Advanced level math for middle school students would require teacher recommendation, high test scores and the completions of a math attitude survey and high-level math challenge. Algebra would be offered to those students who did well in grade seven math and on the end-ofyear, algebra aptitude and state math tests.

Talent pool students would evaluate themselves and would be evaluated by teachers at the end of each cycle, with revaluation for program participation at the end of each year. Teachers would provide formal and informal feedback about the enrichment programs and the identification of students for portions of the program. Students and parents would be asked to share ways to improve the programs. The Gifted and Talented Committee would also continue to make recommendations.

The proposed staffing for the program would be Melissa DeSarno for grades K-2, Karen Schumacher for grades three through eight and Warren Gessman, Pam Koharchik and Daniel Fallon for the high school. The district would pay these teachers the equivalent of 1.13 full-time employees to operate the program for a total of $86,000. This amount is less than the salary of former teacher Stanley Kugel who retired. Kugel, a middle school teacher and Project Discovery (the district’s former gifted and talented program) coordinator, received an annual salary of $92,304.

Other costs associated with the new gifted and talented program include summer hours for placement and curriculum writing at $2,500, elementary school supplies at $2,000, middle school supplies $3,000 and high school supplies at $4,000. The total cost of the program would be $97,500.

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