Gifted program funds cut in 2010 budget

The Baltimore Sun

A summer program that offers gifted students an opportunity to pursue such passions as building a robot, exploring the science of the Chesapeake Bay, playing jazz or learning the physics of solar power has been sliced out of Gov. Martin O'Malley's budget for 2010.

The Maryland Summer Centers for Gifted Students have run for 42 years but will end after this summer if advocates for gifted students and their parents can't persuade the administration to restore the funding, about $413,000.

Often students who have a particular gift or interest in one area may not know another child who shares that interest, until they come to a summer center, said Robert Smith, an associate professor at Salisbury University. "Suddenly, they are in an environment where everyone is passionate about their interest." Parents, he said, have come to him and remarked on how their children have become more directed or thoughtful after their experiences.

Smith, who has been involved in the summer center since 1978, when he graduated from college, now directs the Salisbury Center for the Performing Arts, which brings students together for two weeks each summer in a residential program. The students study filmmaking, musical theater, the visual arts or orchestra. He described the cuts as "troubling," adding, "As a line item in the budget, they are a drop in the bucket."

Rick Abbruzzese, a spokesman for O'Malley, said the governor faced "difficult choices" in trying to reduce state spending by nearly $2 billion. "Our goal is to put as many dollars as possible into our classrooms."

The centers are at 16 places around the state, often on college or university campuses, and serve students from fourth through 12th grade in one-week or two-week residential or day programs.

Some of those this summer include a global languages center at Fort Meade, a center for space science at the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory for middle-schoolers and a math center at Frostburg State University, where middle-school students will explore probability and game theory. Another will focus on paleontology.

Parents pay several hundred dollars for the summer experience, but scholarships are offered to those who cannot afford the tuition. Katherine Rigler, a longtime advocate for the gifted and talented in Maryland, said the centers have attracted students from school systems without access to gifted programs, including African-American, low-income and Hispanic students.

"There is a generally held misconception that gifted and talented children will make it on their own. The evidence is quite to the contrary on that. Some will succeed. ... But many of them do not," she said. Rigler said the centers do not exist in every state.

Laura Carriere of Montgomery County, whose children have participated, said there have always been more applicants than openings. "My kids have applied and not been accepted," she said. When they tried again, they both attended and loved the programs. She hopes to help organize advocates for gifted education and parents of students to get the centers restored for the summer of 2010 through a letter and e-mail campaign.

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