Project trains brightest Learning: Pupils who enter Baltimore schools program study advanced math and science.


An article in yesterday's Maryland section about Baltimore's Ingenuity Project for gifted children misidentified a student as Dallas Terry. He actually is Dallas Perry, a sophomore at Polytechnic Institute.

The Sun regrets the error.

They were the smartest pupils in their fifth-grade classes, the children who were the first to put down their pencils and the first to raise their hands. Sometimes, they were teased by classmates or felt awkward about being a "nerd."

Then they entered Ingenuity Project, and their school lives changed. "Every year, the sixth-graders are shocked when they aren't the first ones done," said Felicity Ross, a math teacher at Robert Poole Middle School in Hampden.

For the first time in their lives, they are surrounded by others as capable and bright as they are.

Her pupils, along with dozens of others in three middle schools across Baltimore, are in an accelerated math and science program designed to make them competitive with the best 18-year-old minds in the nation by the time they graduate from high school.

In its fifth year, Ingenuity Project has 41 pupils in the ninth and 10th grades at Polytechnic Institute and 260 in Roland Park, Southeast and Robert Poole middle schools.

With so much money and attention paid to those who are failing in the system, Ingenuity Project is a sort of oddity, one of the few programs aimed at pushing high-achieving pupils to learn in greater depth and at a faster pace.

The results support the program, according to Kate Walsh, chairwoman of the Ingenuity Project board and senior program officer for education at the Abell Foundation.

"We know from test scores that it is working," she said.

At the beginning of ninth grade last year, pupils scored in the 89th percentile, behind 11 percent of other pupils who took a nationwide math test. By the end of the year, the score had risen to 92nd percentile in math. In science, the pupils moved from the 76th percentile to the 83rd in their ninth-grade year.

Underwritten by the Abell Foundation, Ingenuity Project got its start when the foundation's president, Robert C. Embry Jr., mused that no city pupil in recent memory had been a winner or runner-up in the annual Westinghouse Science Talent Search.

The mission then became to see if city public schools couldn't nurture talent in the middle school years, so that when pupils arrived in high school, they would be prepared for a rigorous academic program.

"We want to try to get them to start looking at the world and thinking: 'What if? Could it be? How come?' " said Stephanie Miller, a curriculum coordinator and retired Bryn Mawr School science teacher.

Some pupils in Ingenuity Project have set their sights higher than most city high school sophomores. "I want to be an engineer," said Dallas Terry, an engaging 14-year-old sophomore at Poly, who moments later is talking about measuring the weight of peptides.

"I am interested in medicine and physiology. I want to become a doctor," said Melissa Martinez, 16, who came to the United States from the Philippines when she was 8 years old.

Both have successful parents who have motivated their children and encouraged them to apply for the program. About 450 pupils applied last year for 145 spaces in sixth grade at the middle schools and in ninth grade at Poly. Children who get into the program at the beginning of middle school and high school usually stay in for their careers at those schools.

The path ahead for Dallas has always been clear. "I got a computer on my 11th birthday. In the fourth or fifth grade, I knew I wanted to be in science."

Terry said Ingenuity Project has provided him something he wouldn't have had at other city high schools -- smaller classes, more science courses where more is expected of pupils, and double laboratory periods.

The project has also helped find internships with scientists at Johns Hopkins so that pupils can witness science exploration at work.

The pupils are given counseling and attention so that if they are struggling they get help quickly.

In giving so many extras to their pupils, Ingenuity Project administrators walk a fine line between offering something special to bright public school pupils and not becoming elitist.

But the fact is that $400,000 a year from Abell allows Ingenuity Project to employ a full-time director, hire many of its math and science teachers, give teachers extra training and buy additional math textbooks. It also equips laboratories in middle and high schools. At Poly, the program has paid for a computer laboratory for Ingenuity pupils to use whenever they want and has outfitted Poly's physics lab with computers.

Recruiting outside

Ingenuity's director and board have also placed a great deal of ZTC emphasis on teaching excellence. Because of a national shortage of qualified math and science teachers, Karol Costa, Ingenuity Project director, knew she would have to go outside the school system to recruit enough teachers. She found one math teacher nearly as soon as he stepped off the plane from Russia, a country known for having strong mathematicians.

Mikhail Goldenberg was a professor at a technical university in Chelyabinsk, on the western edge of Siberia, who also had experience teaching top math pupils in secondary schools. He says he enjoys his American pupils because they are highly motivated and eager to learn. "They can solve everything in American textbooks and so I have to give them problems from my own textbooks," said Goldenberg, who teaches ninth- and 10th-graders at Poly.

Goldenberg said he is trying to teach the children to look at a problem, discuss it and work together to solve it rather than simply learn by rote a method of solving a particular kind of math problem.

Textbooks are also coming from abroad. Baltimore will be the first school system in the country to import math textbooks from Singapore. After an international report illuminated the shortcomings of the American system's teaching of math and science, teachers in those subjects have begun looking at how Russia and Japan and other Asian countries are teaching them.

Abell contacted the Gabriella and Paul Rosenbaum Foundation, a Chicago-based organization that supports research into mathematics and found the English-language Singapore texts.

Despite recent success, Ingenuity Project has not fitted easily into a troubled Baltimore school system that cannot afford luxuries. "It is an opportunity the kids would not have had without the Abell Foundation," said Andrea Bowden, supervisor of the Office of Science, Mathematics and Health for the city schools.

She said some math and science teachers in the system were irked that the program has not always appointed teachers from their ranks.

Some problems

Costa and Walsh acknowledged they have had some bumps getting the program started.

Five middle schools initiated the program, but that was reduced to three when the staff thought the quality of the program could not be maintained at all of the schools.

Pupils who want to be in the program in middle school might have to travel a long distance to get to a participating school.

But some teachers and principals within the system have remained supportive, believing that the program will improve the expectations for all children. Doris Shaw, principal of Robert Poole Middle, said the project has strengthened her school and increased parent involvement.

"They have set an academic standard," she said. "And the parents of those children tend to be highly motivated and so when they come in they encourage others."

Pub Date: 11/30/98

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