Academically gifted teacher Hope Sides, right, talks with second-grader Turner Hunt, 7, as he helps complete a logic elimination grid Friday in Lynn Moore's class at Red Oak Elementary School.
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Telegram photo / Alan Campbell

Academically gifted teacher Hope Sides, right, talks with second-grader Turner Hunt, 7, as he helps complete a logic elimination grid Friday in Lynn Moore's class at Red Oak Elementary School.

Nash-Rocky Mount revamps gifted program

By Jim Holt

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New state regulations are meant to ensure every child in Nash-Rocky Mount Public Schools is given an equal opportunity to excel in academically gifted programs.

Nash-Rocky Mount Public School’s AIG Department recently developed a new plan based on the statewide framework of separating students, said Laura Parrott, AIG coordinator for the district.

AIG facilitators throughout the district have been partnering with K-3 classroom teachers to implement the new plan and respond to students’ learning profiles and interests.

The facilitators selectively go into each classroom and vary content, instruction and learning products to identify and expound on the skills selected students exhibit.

Teachers make a note of students who rise to the challenge.

“We look for certain criteria,” said Peggy Wendling, AIG coordinator at Benvenue Elementary School.

Wendling, a 20-year veteran of teaching gifted students, said as opposed to the past when the curriculum used to be more content-based, now, facilitators look for children “who have a unique perspective and who think outside the box.”

When a facilitator visits a class to teach a specific lesson, the classroom teacher becomes an observer and is given a checklist in which to record which students exhibit higher thinking skills.

“It’s fair because everybody has a shot at it,” Wendling said.

If a particular student responds well in critical thinking and deductive reasoning skills, he or she might or might not perform the same in a science or math subject.

Regardless, each student is recognized for their own unique impositions, and is able to advance in that subject area through the AIG facilitator.

Exceptional students are, in a sense, “sifted” and are thus subject to a different, more advanced curriculum beyond that of the ordinarily provided educational program.

The objective of the program is to promote and support the academic achievement of all students, while paying special attention to delivering educational opportunities for the academically/intellectually gifted child, according to the school district’s AIG policy.

The AIG students show the potential to perform at higher levels of accomplishment when compared with others of their age, experience or environment.

The school district has emphasized that students from “all cultural and socioeconomic populations can exhibit exceptional abilities and is committed to providing an appropriately differentiated instructional program responsive to the abilities and needs of all gifted learners to prepare them to be globally competitive in the 21st century.”

Through the K-3 AIG sifting process, classroom teachers and AIG facilitators, through special exercises, observe and collect informal evidence from kindergarten through third grade students that registers with AIG standards.

The K-3 AIG curriculum, which focuses on an “activating inquisitive minds” program, has been implemented at all elementary schools.

The curriculum is based on Costa’s Higher Levels of Thinking, Bloom’s Taxonomy and the Primary Education Thinking Skills program, all of which foster higher levels of critical and creative thinking.

“My heart has always been with meeting the needs of exceptional children,” Wendling said. “We don’t want to forget about the gifted children when it comes to exceptional thinking.”

In the first semester, AIG facilitators uniformly focus on deductive reasoning skills. Next semester, the focus might be on convergence thinking across the district.

By October, enough students who have proven exceptionally bright are grouped together by the AIG facilitator for a special side class in which the skills students have proven to demonstrate a higher grasp of are emphasized.

“We are empowering all children to be good thinkers,” said Hope Sides, Winstead Avenue and Red Oak Elementary AIG Facilitator who has 15 years of experience teaching gifted students.

Sides said she walks the halls occasionally holding a light bulb over students heads to engage them in and encourage smart thinking.

“We not only need the students who can design the bridge ... but also the students who can do the math problems and make the bridge work correctly.”

Sides said she sees “such a positive impact on all students when she tells them that they are all good thinkers.

“It is truly powerful to be empowering all the students with these thinking skills lessons,” she said. “I am thrilled to be a part of it.”