An equity initiative that discourages attention to excellence—no matter how laudable its goals may seem—cannot take us the full distance we need to go as a nation. While it is a critical time in our history to ensure that vulnerable students are fully supported in growth, it is not a good time to tacitly post a sign on the schoolhouse door that says, ‘We have no serious plans for you once you are beyond proficiency.’ At this moment in history, it would seem more essential than at most other times to make a clear statement of will and policy to ensure that we raise ceilings of performance as fervently as we raise floors (Tomlinson, 2002, p. 3).
The School District of Haverford Township’s gifted programming is intended for children with very superior cognitive abilities who need more than the general education curriculum provides. Children can be assessed for gifted eligibility upon entrance to kindergarten. All of our students are screened for possible gifted eligibility in second grade, but a student can be referred to the Gifted Child Study Team in any grade by an administrator, parent, teacher, or by self referral.
The Gifted Support Teacher may provide pull-out or push-in support to eligible students, depending upon their gifted needs. During pull-out support, students meet with peers of similar ability and participate in enrichment and extension activities that broaden the regular education curriculum. The emphasis is on strengthening critical thinking skills. During push-in support, gifted students are provided extra academic challenges within the regular education setting.
Sometimes a child’s gifted needs may be met through consultation and differentiation in the regular education classroom. Reading groups based upon current level, math enrichment groups, and small groups working on individual areas of growth such as higher-level thinking, problem solving, and technology use also may be employed. The general education teachers meet the needs of gifted students through specially designed instruction. Examples of gifted specially designed instruction may include: subject or grade level acceleration; enrichment math classes; enrichment language arts classes; participation in gifted sponsored competitions in math problem solving, word analogies, and geography challenges; modification of the content, process, or product; working with gifted peers; and consultation with the gifted support teacher.
The Elementary and Middle School Seminar Programs vary depending on the needs of the individual student. Seminar is a good way to meet some gifted needs of some gifted students, but the individual plans are tailored to the specific gifted needs of each student.
One component of services for 3rd, 4th, and 5th graders consists of a pull-out educational seminar program offered for two hours each week. Students spend time working on various higher-level, problem-solving activities. In addition, each grade spends the year learning and applying their knowledge to an area of research.
Third grade seminar students explore the five themes of geography: location, place, human-environment interaction, movement, and regions. This is a direct extension to the social studies curriculum of basic map skills and an understanding of the world around them, which is presented in the regular education classroom. In order to focus their research, each student selects a country, and applies, evaluates, and synthesizes their knowledge in an in-depth study of that country.
Fourth grade seminar students explore the field of architecture, creating a way for each student to further understand how man interacts with his environment. By studying and manipulating different forms of architecture, past and present, students reflect on the growth and development of civilization. Themes include the creation of agrarian settlements, industrial communities and cities, and the study of architectural elements of style, function, and geometry. This enriches the regular education social studies curriculum of the development of regions, specifically Pennsylvania. In addition, it connects directly with the math curriculum of geometry and scale. Language Arts is extended through various writing activities and the major research component of the exploration of an architectural wonder in our world.
The study of archaeology and anthropology in fifth grade provides students the opportunity to investigate how man has interacted with his environment over time. By investigating civilizations and cultures both past and present, students discover an understanding of patterns common to all cultures and see the similarities of each are greater than the differences. Students choose an ancient civilization to focus their research and synthesize their newly found knowledge. This further enriches the students’ studies throughout the fifth grade regular education curriculum specifically as it relates to the development of government, technology, and culture of the people of the United States and as enrichment to the writing and reading curriculum from Language Arts.
The Middle School Seminar program is set up in quarter classes (47 minutes a day, every day for nine weeks). In addition to being scheduled for seminar where students interact with peers of similar ability, students’ gifted needs are met in the general education classroom through specially designed instruction. Examples of gifted specially designed instruction in the general education classroom include participation in the 1A accelerated math class and participation in independent studies and/or enrichment projects that are extensions of the general curriculum. Gifted students at the Middle School may also participate in ability grouped classes as part of the general education program. Such classes allow a higher level of challenge, including a faster pace of instruction and more indepth exploration of the curriculum.
The Middle School Seminar program rotates through three years of planned courses of study across all three grade levels. Year One’s theme is Economics, Law, and Ethics, which focuses on exploring the following essential questions: What are economic systems? How does the economy influence decisions made by businesses? What are the fundamental rules for living in a society, where do they come from, and why are they important? What is the role of the youth in society? How does juvenile justice differ from the justice system for adults? Is it fair and appropriate? What are ethics and were do they come from? What forms the basis of an ethical society? How should we handle ethical dilemmas?
Year Two is a Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) curriculum, called Robotics. This multimedia curriculum provides an engaging way to teach STEM concepts utilizing the LEGO Mindstorms NXT Robots. Students learn how to program basic robot behaviors using motors and rotation, sound, light, touch and ultrasonic sensors. Step-by-step videos teach students how to use the programming language, build robots, basic robot behavior, use of sensors, robot competition, etc.
Year Three is entitled Philosophy of Self. This course attempts to assist gifted adolescents to achieve what developmental psychologist Erik Erikson calls a “state of identity.” The students read and grapple with the ideas of ancient through modern day philosophers and debate such topics as Who am I? How do I know who I am? What do I believe in? How do I develop a belief system? What molds or influences my beliefs? How do I gain understanding of others especially when their beliefs differ from mine? How do personal philosophies intersect with cultural or personal stereotypes? The culminating project of this rigorous unit of study requires the students to develop their own burgeoning philosophy of self and present that personal philosophy in a form of their own choosing to their peers.
The High School is uniquely placed to offer opportunities for acceleration and enrichment through its general education programs. For example, ninth graders may be accelerated into Science, English, and Math courses when appropriate. Honors Level courses provide enrichment, a heightened level of challenge, and the ability to work with peers of high ability and skill. Rigorous Advanced Placement courses extend these experiences into college level academics. Enrichment is also available through elective courses in the five major academic subjects as well as in fine and applied arts, technology education, human resources, music, and the visual and performing arts. The activities program provides opportunities for enrichment to students in areas of interest such as student government, publications, clubs, theater productions, science, sports, art and music, including competition based programs such as Hi-Q, Science Olympiad, and U.S. First robotics. These opportunities are all available to students based on interest, performance, and ability. If a high school student needs specially designed instruction not provided in the High School’s regular education program, a Gifted Individualized Education Plan meeting is scheduled with the student’s guidance counselor and an individual plan is developed based upon need.