Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Tar Heel Education: Something For The Gifted

In the schools of the college town of Chapel Hill, North Carolina, kids who score above the 97th percentile in reading and math are invited to participate in a program that is designed to meet their needs:
Carol Horne, gifted program curriculum coordinator for Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools, explained in a presentation Tuesday night at Smith Middle School the logistics of LEAP. [ Learning Environment for Advanced Programming]

The program is geared toward kids who have “demonstrated extraordinary levels of intellectual potential and academic achievement found in the top 1 percent of the national population in reading and math,” according to Horne’s presentation.

Previously offered only to fourth- and fifth-graders, the program now is available at Smith to all eligible district students in sixth- and seventh-grades. And by the 2006-07 school year, eighth-graders will get their chance to prove their skills.

Ed Holub, whose child participates in the program, said he is pleased with the program and emphasized its necessity.

“It’s hard to operate with a wide range of students in the class,” he said. “It fulfills the district’s mission of meeting each child’s potential in every classroom.”

Holub said it is almost impossible for teachers to instruct each student at his or her own proficiency level in a class, and that LEAP provides an efficient way of teaching the most talented kids.

Tuesday’s information session focused on availability and which children qualify for the program. Horne explained that a committee decides entrance based on aptitude or achievement — students take the Naglieri Non-Verbal Aptitude Test as one indicator.

Only those who score in the 97th percentile or higher on both the reading and math portions of the test are eligible for the program.

Horne said many parents who have children who qualified for the program might choose not to leave their individual school, adding that each system school had a “thriving, excellent gifted program.”

One concern about LEAP is that students might be isolated from the rest of the school population, which might prove detrimental.

But Valerie Reinhardt, principal at Smith, said no such problem exists.

Students in the program have homeroom and four core sections with their LEAP classmates but attend three electives that allow them to follow an avenue of learning of their choice, she added.

“Above all, they are Smith students, not LEAP students,” she said.

Boyd Blackburn, a math and social studies teacher in the program, agreed.

“In the middle school, they aren’t isolated,” he said. “It’s a good mix. I would not describe them as isolated, and I don’t think they feel isolated either.”

So far, Reinhardt said the installation of the program into middle school has progressed smoothly.

“There’s a lot of healthy learning,” she said. “There were a couple of bumps in the beginning, but the kids and parents are pleased.”

Holub admitted how satisfied he was with the program so far.

“I think the district did an outstanding job of recruiting teachers and putting together a curriculum,” he said. “They are very committed to making the entire LEAP program a success.”
It is a most unfortunate fact that in many American schools bright and highly-motivated children are often "picked-on" by students who think that school is not a place to work and learn but a place to play and waste time.

It is even more unfortunate that in many cases, the schools permit this to continue.
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