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The High School problem

Connie Steiert

One frustration for many parents is that the local gifted and talented program ends for students after middle school. There is no gifted and talented program in high school. “There’s no connection between middle school and high school,” says Susan Mackin-Dolan, an advocate for gifted children.This, it turns out, is not unusual. In the five years Christine Price has been at Smoky Hill and working with Cherry Creek High, they have never had a gifted program at the high school level.”There are so many advanced placement classes and they have the dual enrollment and honors classes,” Gary Rito explains. “There are a ton of things for those kids to go into.”Mackin-Dolan says that’s fine, but the district needs to lower the age of eligibility for gifted students. And Anne Dunlevie agrees these classes present wonderful opportunities, but adds, “if we haven’t supported (the gifted) through the ranks, they won’t have developed the work skills and the letter grades to get into those classes.”The steering committee, too, would like to see a seamless gifted and talented program from the elementary level to the high school level, but Rito is waiting to see just what the elementary gifted program will look like before tackling the secondary level so he can dovetail the programs. However, he would like to the secondary focus placed on developing a more comprehensive EAGLE program in the middle schools.Currently, the EAGLE program is more based on creative, Odyssey of the Mind type of endeavors at this level, he says, and middle school administrators are voicing the opinion that it needs to become more academically based.”The district has to decide what they mean by gifted,” says Rito. He explains that the current identification process does not necessarily identify academic proficiency. “The middle schools are saying that if the elementary schools stay with the kind of matrix they are currently looking at, and kids can be identified on their academic proficiency, than they could build their own program around that,” Rito says.If the identification matrix doesn’t change, children may have to re-qualify to be admitted to any future incarnation of a gifted program at the middle school level. “That doesn’t mean,” he hastily adds, “that it won’t be creative.”One thing Rito is certain of is that the middle school gifted and talented program will not be centered on magnet sites. “The middle schools have no interest whatsoever in being a center. Middle school kids don’t want to leave their middle school.” But he would like to see a curriculum developed that will provide consistency from school to school, particularly in skill in higher level thinking and analysis.Dunlevie says she is “excited that the district is moving in a new direction.” But she remains cautiously optimistic, worried that these changes will not be far reaching enough. “One of my concerns is that children are gifted 24-7,” not just one day of the week. I am disappointed that (the changes) are not going to be as extensive or as fully integrated as say they would be at a magnet school.”Both the school district and GET, however, seem to be encouraged that there is now a working relationship between the schools and the parent advocate group. Two GET members are serving on the gifted and talented steering committee, and GET members recently met with Neff to help plan future speaker series to tie in with district needs.”I think the relationship GET has been building with the school district has been healthy and I would like to see it continue to grow that relationship and be part of the process in changing K-12 education,” Dunlevie says. “I think they are doing a great job with awareness for the parents,” Neff says. “And they are working at the state level.”Both teachers and parents agree when Forbes says, “we don’t want anybody to fall through the cracks.”


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