By Jennifer Wohlleb
How much time does a person spend tying their shoes over an average lifetime? Will the “rabbit-ears” method or the double loop save more time?
These were among the questions sixth-graders were able to ponder during their day at Glasgow Independent School’s CELTIC (Creating Enriched Learning through Innovative Curriculum) Academy for gifted and talented students.
PHOTO: CELTIC science teacher Julie Bunnell helps sixth-grader Cayden Dunn work on his illustration of a plant cell.
“We have time to problem solve here,” said CELTIC math teacher Michelle Lynch. “They get to problem-solve because that’s a skill they really need to have, globally, and we have time to do that. That’s our main focus with math and science. We try to get them to work on tough problems that there’s not a really easy answer to, because a lot of time with these kids, the answer is too easy.”
The academy was created last year to provide in-depth enrichment activities in math and science for students in third through seventh grades, with language arts for sixth- and seventh-graders being piloted this year. CELTIC students from the district’s two elementary schools and one middle school are pulled out of their regular classes one day a week to attend the academy at a mostly vacant elementary school that has been renovated for the program. Two full-time teachers, hired from each of the elementary schools, work together to provide the instruction.
Filling a need
Superintendent Sean Howard said when he came to the district in 2010, administrators began looking at ways to meet the needs of underserved gifted and talented students, as well as those who show an interest.
“We came up with this idea, this concept of bringing together our top-performing students and combining them into one off-site location and just offering the absolute best instruction that we could possibly offer to those kids, and I feel like we’ve been able to do that with the two teachers we have,” he said.
Tina Steen, gifted and talented coordinator, said the program offers enrichment, not necessarily acceleration. It also is a hands-on, project-based program that engages the students.
“The teachers here do not try to take the place of the classroom teacher, they’re not trying to teach the grade-level core content – they’re trying to expand on that,” she said. “And we do that mainly through an inquiry-based approach, in which the children are given problems or scenarios in which to solve. They bring their own background, their own knowledge base, how they attack the problem. From that, lots of mini lessons will evolve ... a lot of time they teach each other.”
Science teacher Julie Bunnell said gifted or highly motivated students have their own unique challenges.
“It’s been interesting for us to watch when we bring them here, the work is harder and they’re used to having the right answers and they don’t always have those right answers here,” she said. “So they’re learning to deal with frustration. They’re like, ‘This is hard,’ and we tell them, ‘Yeah, we’re here to stretch your brain.’
“They’re not so alone. We’ve seen students who are alone in the classroom make friends here and find someone who is like them, and that it’s OK to be smart.”
Howard said it’s not only those students in the program who benefit from the targeted instruction.
“The program doesn’t get started until after Labor Day, so between the first day of school and then, those two teachers are going out into those two elementaries and presenting instruction to all grade levels at that elementary, and the sixth- and seventh-grade level as well,” he said. “Then in the spring of the year during K-PREP testing, when the first- and second-graders are not testing, they went into those classrooms and provided instruction in math and science. So every single kid, grades 1-7 were touched by these two outstanding teachers.”
From making a transportation schedule to working with the regular classroom teachers, Howard said pulling the program together has not been simple, but has been worthwhile.
“It has resulted in our elementary schools scheduling math first thing in the morning so that when those kids leave to go to CELTIC they’re not missing their math class,” he said. “That was very important to the teachers in the home building and very important to the principals, so there had to be some logistical things worked out with that.”
Howard said he also was concerned initially that not everyone would view the program positively, but said the program has been warmly embraced by teachers and principals.
He said the program’s biggest potential pitfall was concern over what students were missing at their home school while attending CELTIC once a week.
“We didn’t want it to be a situation where the kids were gone all day from their home school receiving instruction and then when they get back the following day they had all this work to make up that they missed the day they were out,” he said. “There’s had to be a lot of communication, via the principal to the staff about what the expectations are, what reasonable expectations are for these students upon their return to class. Our teachers in the home schools have done very well with that.”
Filling the 40 slots per grade level has been a challenge, but one the district expects to disappear as the popularity of the program grows.
“Once we fill with gifted and talented in each grade, then we look at adding other students,” Steen said. “One of the ways you can qualify to attend is through your state testing results … the criteria is to score 90 percent or higher on a standardized test, in overall math or overall science, no subgroup scores. You can qualify in either and you get both when you get here.”
Steen said teacher and parent recommendations were used, even self-recommendations, because of the delayed test scores this year. Students can also take an achievement test to get into the program. “If they score one grade level above or higher on a subject-based test, then they can attend,” she said.
Steen said the end-of-year survey filled out by parents and students attested to the program’s success.
“They (students) say it is making them more satisfied in their regular classes,” she said. “ I did some informal student interviews and some of the things they shared with me were, ‘It’s my favorite day,’ ‘I don’t miss school on this day.’ One of my questions to them was, what would you change and they were so alarmed, ‘Don’t change anything,’ they said. And I said, ‘No, what do you want me to add to make it better.’”
And as far as time-saving methods, students learned the double loop and pull shoe tying method can save two days over an average life span vs. the rabbits ears.