Reaching more minds

Published 10:11 am Wednesday, November 12, 2008

High potential students in Austin Public Schools now have more dedicated care and advanced opportunities thanks to a donation from the Hormel Foundation.

A three-year, $811,000 donation has enabled the district to fund one gifted and talented teacher in each elementary building and kindergarten, something the district has not been able to do before.

Amanda Bremner, the district’s gifted and talented coordinator and part-time teacher at Neveln Elementary, said the program is aimed at “high ability learners who show a need for a different curriculum.”

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Early in school, students’ academic performance, as well as their standardized test scores, are gauged. Students in second-grade and up are monitored through Scantron tests. Those who are considered for gifted and talented typically score in the 95 percentile in either math, reading or both.

Neveln has 10 students in the program in grades 2-5, about average for the district.

Although gifted and talented is only provided for kindergarten through fifth-grade, older students have other options, like honors courses. Ellis Middle School students, for instance, now have sixth-grade pre-algebra.

Bremner said that once students are in the program, they are continually monitored. She said some students who don’t qualify on tests for gifted and talented, but are still high achievers, may still participate in the advanced class work.

On Tuesday, teacher Tracy Garry’s third-grade gifted and talented students, as well as several other high achievers, focused on the “William and Mary” language arts curriculum at Neveln. The topic was “change,” and how to apply it to literature.

“They are much more excited about reading,” Garry said. “It provides them with that challenge they need.”

Bremner said that feedback from parents has been positive, particularly those who know their child could use more challenging work.

“I think overall, parents are pleased,” Bremner said.

Eleven teachers in the district are pursuing a gifted and talented teaching certificate.

The district employs two full-time, two part-time and one 0.4 teacher, but many others are also interested in licensure.