Gifted program for junior high students coming in fall

Published 11:29 pm Saturday, April 7, 2012

Eighty seventh-graders entering junior high school in the Vicksburg Warren School District in August will be selected to enroll in a gifted program the district will pilot next year.

School board members gave a thumbs up to the program at their March business meeting.

“I’m glad to see this coming forward,” District 2 Trustee Zelmarine Murphy said just before the unanimous vote. “All the data indicate the need to challenge our students, and this has been a group of students that we have not put the pressure on… we want to get the max out of them, or to allow them to give us the max. I can only see good coming out of this.”

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The program, dubbed Scholastic Academy, will comprise students from Vicksburg and Warren Central junior high schools but classes will meet in the Rosa A. Temple Annex at VJHS. Students will remain enrolled in their home schools and progress to aligned high schools.

“Our overall intent is to capture opportunities for those kids who really function at a high level of academic skill,” said Paula Johnson, assistant superintendent for curriculum and instruction.

Notification that a student has been selected probably will take place around the last week in June, said Dr. Elizabeth Swinford, VWSD superintendent.

Those eligible do not have to have been in a gifted program in elementary school but must have scored proficient or above on state-mandated MCT2 tests, or be referred by a teacher or principal and perform well on district intelligence and aptitude tests, Swinford said in an interview.

“There’s also nothing wrong with parents contacting the principal if they feel their child should be considered,” she added.

At the same time, parents must be committed to a significant level of home support in the work that will be demanded of students, she said.

“We have to have parent participation or the kids are not going to be successful.”

Both junior high school principals have been involved in the planning and coordination of schedules and logistics, Johnson told the board.

Dr. Michael Winters, VJHS principal, said he “jumped out of his seat” when discussions began.

“Over the years the focus has always been on the middle of the pack or the bottom of the pack, trying to meet the needs of those students, but we’ve never really met the needs of the high-functioning students,” Winters said. “We have a core of students who need that extra challenge and to be stimulated academically.”

Cedric Magee, WCJHS principal, echoed him. “I’m excited about the program and ready to see it in action.”

Johnson said district officials initially wanted to include more than 80 students, but decided to set up four classrooms — one each for English, math, social studies and science — and work out any kinks in a controlled setting.

“We want this to be a stellar opportunity,” she said, adding that athletic, curriculum and testing and information management directors have been involved.

Kids will be re-evaluated to remain in the program next year, officials said, and opportunities will be provided for new students to enter next year. In addition to students being hand-picked, teachers will be specially selected and trained. Instruction will not be textbook-driven, but largely project-based, with students responsible for setting goals — with teacher support and approval — and tracking deadlines.

“These classrooms will not look like traditional classrooms,” Johnson said. The rooms will be technology rich, including iPads, with a stress on collaborative learning and even self-evaluation, she said. On the low-tech end, Legos and other manipulatives also will be used, as research has shown they promote critical thinking and gifted development, said Johnson.

“We won’t have anyone constantly saying to these kids, ‘you’ve got to do this, you’ve got to do this, you’ve got to do this.’ It is very important for us to teach your kids, if they are selected, to be self-accountable (and) self-reliable,” she said.

“These students will be able to target their own learning goals — things they want to see and learn about and explore in addition to what’s required in the curriculum,” Winters said.

The goal also is to create a consistent stream of high school students into honors, Advanced Placement and dual-enrollment courses, said Swinford.

After the high school “feeder program” is set, the district could move the program down into the elementary schools, Johnson said.

Currently, the junior high and high schools offer honors classes to students who meet the prerequisites. At the elementary level, pull-out GATES — Gifted and Talented Enrichment Services — are offered for a few hours each week.

Johnson said more information, including some parent meetings, will be held as details take shape.