As both a teacher of the gifted and as Coordinator of Gifted Services for the Huntsville City School District, I am often asked by parents, “How can I best support my gifted child?”
Huntsville City Schools offers multiple services for our gifted students that begin in early childhood and extend throughout the middle and high school school years. One new gifted education service offered by HCS is an Advanced Education Plan created specifically for gifted students’ individualized needs. Parents’ knowledge of gifted services available and involvement in the creation of their child’s Advanced Education Plan are critical to ensuring their child will flourish in elementary school.
How It Works
HCS serves gifted students in all elementary schools through both a Talent Development Program that begins in Pre-kindergarten and a weekly pull out program that begins in 3rd grade and continues through 5th grade. Talent Development programming continues throughout the elementary years and involves the gifted teacher providing lessons in the general education classroom to extend learning and stretch students creatively. In middle school, gifted identified students are eligible to apply for the new gifted middle magnet program, Academy for Gifted and Talented.
The gifted identification process is completed in second grade after careful observation, testing, and collection of evidence. Once a child is identified as gifted, teachers and parents work together to create an educational plan that best fits the child. Usually the plan includes a weekly pull out class in which the student participates in small-group projects, concept based learning, and individual study projects.
The Village Approach
To create the Advanced Education Plan, parents give input on their child’s strengths and passion areas that are not yet recorded by the gifted teacher. Parents and the gifted teacher develop goals (with ongoing collaborative revisions between home and school as needed) for the student that include both affective and academic goals. This plan is a living document that follows the student through elementary school. It can and should be reviewed by parents, teachers, and the student so that it evolves as the student grows.
Parents can support student achievement at home and encourage the student while they work on their goals. This can happen in various forms – from frequent inquiry conversations about school and their child’s learning to providing opportunities or resources outside of school. Keep in mind that student achievement doesn’t necessarily mean academic achievement. Gifted students need to overcome struggles when challenged, learn to negotiate group dynamics, and manage their own learning. These are very real successes that should be recognized by educators and parents.
Gotta Have Goals
Communication is key to the success of the Advanced Learning Plan and must involve the student. Encourage your gifted student to reflect and plan for the future through age-appropriate goal setting. Student goal setting is a collaborative process with teacher and parents that create opportunities matched with the child’s passions, interests, and needs. Teachers and parents are the facilitators of the child’s active engagement in activities towards achieving goals. Gifted teachers will ask students to self-monitor their progress throughout the year to encourage students to accept ownership for achieving goals and enable them to ask for support when needed. Parents can best support this by participating in review conferences that include student self-reflection and evaluation of successes and challenges and by continuing these types of conversations at home.
The gifted teacher is ultimately responsible for the implementation set and agreed upon in the Advanced Education Plan. They provide appropriate instructional programming matched to a student’s identified area of strength recorded in the plan. However, other educators (i.e., general education teacher, math specialist, counselor) may also work in partnership to provide additional support. Keeping communication lines open between all of the important adults in a child’s life is essential.
The Advanced Education Plan is a new component to Huntsville City Schools Gifted Services that gives parents an active role in their child’s education. While it is purely optional to parents, it does provide them a vehicle for communication with the elementary school that follows and grows with their child. It also serves as a record of services provided to the child.
For more information on developing an Advanced Education Plan for any gifted child enrolled in Huntsville City Schools, please contact the gifted teacher at your school or Wendy Graham at 256-428-6872.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Wendy Graham has been involved in education for 30 years. Her current position is the Coordinator of Gifted Services for Huntsville City Schools.
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