Garfield Re-2 district’s Gifted and Talented program helps students excel
Elk Creek Elementary fourth grader Brian Hazelton said he wants to be an astronomer, an artist and an author when he grows up.
“I really love writing because I feel like — especially in narrative writing — I can just let my imagination just do what it wants,” he said.
This young aspiring artist comes from a number of Re-2 students more likely to excel academically using tools beyond the typical classroom setting. Coordinators and administrators in the district’s “Gifted and Talented” program specifically use intervention techniques to help nudge students like Hazelton in the right direction.
It could be a coordinator coming into the classroom and personally challenging a student. It could be taking them out of the classroom and placing them in a learning group with fellow gifted and talented peers. Whatever the approach, the program aims to bridge more of these students toward success.
Hazelton, identified as gifted through cognitive testing when he was in kindergarten, explained some of the challenges he faces in a more typical learning environment.
“On certain assignments there’s a prompt,” he said. “The prompt is sometimes confusing and something I don’t understand well.”
On the flip side, Hazelton’s diverse way of thinking actually places him in advanced situations. Sometimes he has to wait for his classmates to rest their pencils.
“Especially in writing, I get done early, because I’m just a fast typer and kind of a fast writer,” he said.
Suzanne Hazelton, Brian’s mother, also acknowledges her son’s skill with the English language. She said she thinks reading is where he scored so high, and he gets way ahead of everything.
“The program has helped my son in that it’s helped him understand that his brain works differently than maybe some of his peers,” she said. “He recognizes that, especially as he’s gotten higher grades.”
But believe it or not, this can put students in an awkward position. The question as to how and why some of these students are said to end up either getting bad grades or eventually slipping through the cracks has some complex answers.
Maybe it’s perfectionism. Maybe it’s the fear of failure. Maybe it’s both.
There’s a wide variety of reasons why students require an extra push, said gifted and talented coordinator Keith Bushman.
Take, for instance, gifted and talented students tasked with learning fractions. What Bushman will do is, have the students look at a floor plan of a house, then figure out which fractions of the house should be reserved for the living room, bedrooms and the kitchen.
“I call it, ‘Dig to Asia,’” Bushman said. “We’re not just in the sandbox and moving dirt around, we want to work harder and deeper.”
Fellow coordinator Angela Brady said the other half of what the gifted and talented program aims to accomplish reflects more the social and emotional side of the spectrum.
She said coordinators work with the parents and the kids to set some goals, which align with national standards for social and emotional needs for gifted and talented students. These goals relate to student attributes like social awareness, self-advocacy, self-efficacy, resilience and being independent, among others traits.
“How do we overcome test and assessment anxiety?” Brady said. “We spend quite a bit of time advocating for your needs with adults and with other students and how to do that respectfully, and we role play and we practice what we assign a kid.”
Some dedicated kids, for instance, need help unlocking themselves from certain assignments and moving on.
“Goals are very specific,” Brady said. “Like being aware of your time management and not letting the world go by when you get so in depth in a writing piece.”
Such intervention helps students continue to follow the right path.
“I’m certainly hoping that would help increase their ability to graduate, keeping them in school and retaining them,” Bushman said. “So, hopefully, they’ll take these strategies we teach them in elementary school, build on them in middle school and continue on into high school and take them through graduation.”
THE MEANING OF ‘GIFTED’
The biggest issue the “gifted and talented” program aims to mitigate is inequity.
Instruction and Assessment Director Julie Knowles, who oversees the districts’ Gifted and Talented Education Department, said the program is intended for “a small portion of kids” who show exceptional academic talents as well performing arts and outside-of-the-box talents. Some students may approach learning from a different point of view, which isn’t always easy to do in a regular classroom setting.
In addition to universal testing, there are a number of ways the district refines how they conform to identifying how students are “gifted and talented.”
Without the program, Campbell said some kids may develop what’s known as “imposter syndrome.” If some challenges go unmitigated, a student may come to believe that they’re not capable or proficient in certain subjects.
“Gifted people have what are called intensities, and so these overexcitabilities tend to make them incredibly, overly analytical of themselves or they can be overly critical of themselves or others to the point where they shut themselves down,” Campbell said.
Which is why, since the start of the program at Re-2, the district has continued to allocate more resources to help gifted and talented students.
Around 2000, the program — devised through Colorado’s “Exceptional Children’s Educational Act” — started off with essentially two certified positions and two paraprofessionals trying to cover 10 schools within the district. At present day, there are now coordinators designated for each school. The service costs up to $47,000 a year to support, not including some salaries, according to the district.
So far, figures presented by Campbell during a school board meeting earlier this month show the district has established 23% of gifted and talented students as culturally and linguistically diverse — many of whom are Latino. In addition, 12% are gifted students on free and reduced lunch.
But one major challenge Campbell acknowledges is trying to establish more culturally and linguistically diverse students in the program. At least 43% of the student body at Re-2 is Latino, and with the presence of translators, Campbell said she wants the gifted and talented program to have increased that 23% to 43%.
“Obviously, we’re not there,” she said. “But we are making progress.”
Moving forward, Knowles said the district may look to restructure the program so instructors can follow the gifted students on a more individualized basis. This also includes diversifying their range coverage by including more students involved in the arts.
That could help more students feel like Brian — thriving.
“In the gifted and talented program, I sort of feel accepted. Because at school, when I’m in regular class, I learn differently,” he said. “And most of the teachers teach it in a way I might not be able to understand that well… It’s just very accepting.”
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AS OF THURSDAY, APRIL 22