APS developing programs to better serve students

By Kristi Beckman, Integration Coordinator; Edwina Harder, Gifted Services for Talent Development Coordinator

As our student demographics continue to grow increasingly diverse in Austin, our public schools have been developing programs to better serve the students in our classrooms.  When students and families come to our schools with language skills in dozens of different languages, we know that some of them may need support in their English language skills.

Some may need support as they get used to teaching and learning styles in the United States.  Many of the newer students in our district also have talents that may go unrecognized because they are still developing their expressive English skills.

Through a purposeful approach to student assessment, the Educational Services department at Austin Public Schools holistically evaluates students’ abilities, talents, and needs.  Assessments such as the CoGAT (Cognitive Abilities Test) allow us to determine if students have high nonverbal abilities. 

These students demonstrate that they have excellent critical thinking skills, even if they aren’t yet able to demonstrate those skills on achievement tests that are language-dependent (like the MCA).

When students are identified as having potential for further academic success, our Gifted Services for Talent Development, Integration, and English Language Learning teams work together to ensure students are presented with appropriate challenges at their level.  For example, Young Scholars groups give students at grades K-4 the opportunity to broaden their ability to address problems and think critically through small group enrichment.  These groups allow students with potential to work at a higher level and increase their confidence.

Project E3 is another talent development program designed to identify 4th-6th grade students with potential, offer enrichment services, and increase students’ confidence in their ability to be successful in higher-level classes.

Project E3 students meet for seven Saturday sessions and a four-week summer session.  Students learn about environmental science and engineering through an inter-disciplinary STEAM approach.   

The demographics of this group closely mirror the overall demographics of the district, and many of our students have gone on to challenge themselves by taking higher level classes in math and language arts.  Project E3 was recently recognized by the Minnesota Department of Education as a promising integration practice and was selected as the winner of the 2018 Teacher Award by the Minnesota Soil and Water Conservation Districts.

At the secondary level, AVID provides an opportunity to students who want to challenge themselves by taking rigorous courses, but feel they would benefit from tutoring, study strategies, and targeted support.  Five AVID elective classes are offered in grades 8-12 to allow students who have college aspirations to enroll in rigorous courses at their level.

AVID also provides wraparound supports to students who may be the first in their families to go to college so that they’re better able to navigate complex processes such as applying to college, requesting financial aid, and exploring careers and majors.

As the students in our classrooms become more diverse, we are increasingly aware that we can be most effective by valuing the assets our students bring into our classrooms and working together to help them access the resources they need to pursue their goals.

By proactively seeking information about our students’ strengths, Austin’s Integration and Gifted Services for Talent Development teams make accessing rigorous instruction a reality for students from all backgrounds.

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