Monroe Co. "School of Innovation" gives gifted/talented students new opportunities, especially greater freedom to choose academic subject areas of special interest

Monroe County Citizen, Tompkinsville, April 5, 2017

Academic Success
By ANNE PYBURN CRAIG

Behind the success of the gifted Monroe County children who excel at Beta and Governor’s Cup competitions, earn college credits while still in high school, and win coveted spots at Gatton Academy is a hardworking team of educators implementing the programs that help to stretch their minds. To learn more, the Citizen spoke to Sharon Froedge, who -- along with teaching French, Spanish, and science -- sponsors the International Club and provides guidance for students in the School of Innovation program.

“Last year was our first year as a School of Innovation, which is a program that only select counties in Kentucky participate in, and we’ve had about ten students each year,” she says. “It’s a terrific program for students who are intrinsically motivated and self-regulated; the boys who got accepted to Gatton, for example, had to be able to have flexible schedules so they could work on their math. The School of Innovation allows us to facilitate that.”

Students apply online in a rigorous process that includes essays and teacher recommendations as well as grades.

“Kids in the School of Innovation program need to know how to pace themselves and don’t have to be micromanaged,” she says. “If they don’t understand something, it’s their responsibility to seek out more information on websites like Khan Academy (a free educational resource with extensive content in a wide range of subject areas) and then go to the content area teacher if they still need more. It allows the kids to have more say in what they’re doing and in how they approach a goal -- my own son, for example, focused on ACT math for a solid couple of months and then went back and got caught up on other subjects.”

Besides the School of Innovation, Froedge -- whose teaching career began when she became certified in the Montessori preschool methods -- strives to make sure all students have opportunities to think outside the box. “Last year we took seven kids to Ideafest Bowling Green and they were all School of Innovation students,” she says, “but this year I took 28, some from the International Club, which anyone can join -- all it takes is an interest in languages and cultures and a five dollar bill. The kids decide the agenda. One year they wanted to study Germany and part of that turned into building zeppelins out of balloons and racing them in the hall. Last year we went to the international farmers’ market at the Parthenon in Nashville. This year, a local businessman anonymously sponsored ten kids to go to Ideafest. Not all the kids who are innovative thinkers necessarily get officially identified as ‘gifted and talented’, but you know them when you meet them -- there’s a passion there.’”

At Ideafest Bowling Green in March, the theme was “Make nice with your ideas.” The Monroe County students mingled with thought leaders and innovators in a wide variety of fields.

“It’s all about helping them to realize that, no, not everything has been invented yet,” says Froedge. “You meet incredible people. My ultimate goal is to increase global competency, their connectedness to the wider world, to ideas. And I couldn’t do it without the truly excellent team we have here in Monroe County schools --I am so thankful to my colleagues and my administration for always being open to new ideas and ways to help them get there.”

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