Students in Carroll whose teachers and parents think their children are able to learn at a higher grade level but aren't ready or interested in skipping a full grade can offer their children more challenging classes through the Johns Hopkins University Center for Talented Youth.
In its search for gifted and talented youth, CTY uses tests to identify children whose capacity for learning exceeds their academic surroundings. Students in second through sixth grades can take the School and College Ability Test, which is administered two levels above the student's current grade. Seventh and eighth graders can take the SAT or ACT, which are the same tests used for college admissions.
CTY recognized 16 students from Carroll this spring for their high scores on the tests, and many of these students have taken part in courses and summer programs through CTY in a wide variety of subjects, including ones they may not have access to in their home schools. Programs are available for children in grades pre-kindergarten through 12th grade.
Stephen Galaida, 10, of Union Bridge, took the SCAT tests in the spring semester of his third-grade year, and was tested in concepts from fifth-grade-level English and math. He passed both tests, and during the fall semester of fourth grade, Stephen took a course in Scratch programming for computer-based animation, and in the spring he took a class on inventions in engineering.
"We wanted to give him something that would challenge him but not duplicate or go beyond what he was getting in school," said Elizabeth Galaida, Stephen's mother. "I didn't want to put him in a math class that would teach him fifth-grade math, because when fifth grade comes along, he will have already learned it."
The Scratch class was self-paced, and Stephen learned how to look at a course-long curriculum and divide the work into weekly assignments to prevent himself from procrastinating and having too much to do at the end, Elizabeth Galaida said.
The engineering class, however, was session-based, with students from all over taking part in the same lessons at the same time and then sharing photos and video of their projects in online forums.
"I liked to see what they had to do for their projects," Stephen said of his online classmates. "You got to build a lot of things. My final project was that I made a suitcase that condenses so you won't have any excess space if you take it on an airplane."
Stephen said it was a little hard to do the classes in addition to his regular school work, whereas some of the students in his engineering class were home-schooled and used the course as their only science class for that semester. His mother agreed that the classes stretched her son.
"These courses really are pretty challenging, and he has to think pretty hard," she said. "Your first try isn't always successful."
Matthew Szedlock, of Westminster, who recently finished eighth grade at Gerstell Academy, said he took the SCAT in fifth grade and then took online courses through CTY in sixth through eighth grade. In January, he took the SAT and was recognized for high honors, qualifying him for continuing CTY courses in high school.
Matthew said that all three courses he has taken were ones where he could work on at his own pace. He started with pre-algebra, which took four or five months; then algebra, which took about nine months; and most recently he has been enrolled in honors biology, which he has been working on for a year.
"My favorite was probably honors biology," Matthew said. "I really enjoy biology by itself, it's a really interesting topic, and a lot of the information that was covered was applicable, which made it kind of exciting to learn about it, so I could apply it to daily life."
Matthew said he wanted to take the CTY courses to challenge himself with advanced classes in topics he was interested in.
"School wasn't really as difficult at that time, so I had a lot of additional time when I wasn't really doing much," he said. "I decided to take the courses because they help my academics so I can get ahead in the future."
Megan Epler, of Eldersburg, who is entering 10th grade at Liberty High School, said she got involved with CTY when she was in middle school, and went to two summer camps held at Lafayette College in Pennsylvania for programs she was interested in: "Mystery and Suspense in American Literature and Film" and psychology.
During the past school year, Megan took an online course on "Crafting the Essay," where an instructor would give the students a writing prompt every two weeks, then critique their essays without grading them.
"It was very hardcore," she said, but didn't interfere with her regular school work schedule. "It worked in pretty well because I would do it every weekend."
While she enjoyed the online course, Megan said she enjoyed the camp experiences more.
"Being there with the other kids, it was more involved, because with the online course, you're on there every week or so, but at the actual camp, you're there for three weeks, every single day," she said. "And you're always finding new ideas and talking with kids who are interested in the same thing that you are, and that kind of helps expand your horizons."
Megan's brother Tristan, who just finished sixth grade at Oklahoma Road Middle School, will be attending a CTY camp on "Introduction to Robots" this summer.
Their mother, Susan Epler, said she was a CTY student in her youth, and she's glad to see her kids take advantage of these opportunities as well.
"It's good for them to hang out with kids of similar interests and abilities, and it's also great for them to be on a college campus for a few weeks, to get the feel of independence but not be too independent," she said. "And they meet a lot of different kids from all over the place. It's a little more diverse than your average Carroll County experience."
Jenna Badeker, the gifted and talented resource teacher at Elmer Wolfe Elementary School, said the CTY programs, as well as summer enrichment programs available through Carroll County Public Schools and Maryland Summer Centers for Gifted and Talented Students offered through the Maryland State Department of Education, help gifted and talented students broaden their horizons.
"Students who receive gifted services often have unique areas of interest, to a very high degree," Badeker wrote in an email. "We encourage parents to watch for these and immerse their children in as many related experiences as possible, so that their child maintains a desire to become a life-long learner and pursue his/her passions."
The only catch is to make sure that the child is truly enjoying himself or herself from the extracurricular activities, she said, and that they aren't overwhelmed or getting burned out.
"These students need opportunities for enrichment and challenge, but they also need opportunities to play and be a kid," she said.
For more information on the CTY Talent Search, go to http://www.cty.jhu.edu.