Gifted students to get programs in regular class


Howard County's gifted and talented program for elementary school children will change next school year, when all schools will try a different way of teaching precocious pupils.

The change involves the second grades in all elementary schools and all grades in six elementaries.

Students no longer will be formally tested to be in the gifted and talented program, nor will they be pulled out of class to work on "Type II" projects intended to help them learn research methods and critical thinking skills.

Instead, teachers, from their classroom observations, will compile a list of students who would benefit from doing more advanced work. Parents who believe that their children qualify for the attention also will be able to nominate their children for the program.

Gifted and talented resource teachers will go into classrooms to help regular teachers give enrichment and supplemental work. For example, if students are studying the Civil War, some of them would do an in-depth study of Abraham Lincoln or slavery in addition to their regular class work.

"In the past, the classroom teacher sent the kids to the resource teacher and they worked independently, not knowing what the other is doing," said Bob Glascock, coordinator of the Howard's gifted and talented program.

"What we're trying to do is say, how can we meet the needs of gifted and talented students in the regular classroom?" he said. "How do we use resource teachers to support and assist regular teachers?"

County school officials have not identified the six elementaries that will make the change at all grade levels next year.

Of the roughly 12,000 elementary school students attending Howard schools, 41 percent are involved in the gifted and talented program, Mr. Glascock said.

The new program will broaden the course material in the gifted and talented program at the elementary level. Aside from critical thinking and research skills, elementary pupils in the program now only can take one advanced class -- math for fourth- and fifth-graders.

The change follows years of complaints from parents that the gifted and talented program was not challenging their children enough.

Some parents have complained of their children sitting in class with glazed looks because they had learned the material quickly and had nothing else to do. Some also pointed out that students TTC involved in research projects were learning skills that were already being taught in their classes.

"Although the kids were doing fantastic work in there, those types of things were being absorbed in the regular classroom," said Cassie Thompson, a Clarksville parent who co-chairs the school system's gifted and talented advisory council. "The way [the services] are being delivered right now is constraining."

The change is welcome news to Susannah Feldman, who has two children in the gifted and talented program at Running Brook elementary and Wilde Lake middle schools.

"Children who need the extra stimulation would be getting that 100 percent of the time, rather than hours at a time," she said.

But Ms. Feldman is worried that some teachers will not adapt as well as others to the change.

"Some are well set in their ways already and perhaps are not receptive to some of the ideas of the gifted and talented teachers," she said.

Deborah Jagoda, a teacher in the gifted and talented program at Waverly Elementary School, looks forward to working with classroom teachers.

"I think it's going to be a good idea for children," she said. "Our program is strong today, but I think it'll be even stronger. It's a chance to really zero-in on a child's strength."

Ms. Jagoda said having gifted and talented students work on projects that are connected to what they're learning in the classroom would be better than having students do unrelated work.

"That's a real strength," she said. "They're going to be extending the knowledge they studied in the classroom and go farther. We're not going to have a classroom teacher who is unaware of what they're doing, because they're going to see what they're doing, hear what they're doing."

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