Six-year-old Amelia Bryson sat in her talented arts class at Trinity School of Texas on Thursday. Her teacher, Michelle Stone, had started the kindergarten class by teaching about Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech. Then, each student was challenged to share a dream that could make the world a better place.
“I have a dream that one day no one will be sick anymore,” Amelia proclaimed with her finger in the air.
Melissa McCreary, curriculum director at Trinity, said all students participate in extra art and music classes once a week. During the classes, they learn about an artist or musician and have a more in-depth lesson.
The classes are part of an overall gifted and talented curriculum at the Longview private school.
The Texas Association for the Gifted and Talented defines a GT student as “a child or youth who performs at or shows the potential for performing at a remarkably high level of accomplishment when compared to others of the same age, experience or environment,” according to its website.
Schools have different approaches for providing education to GT students.
McCreary said Trinity believes all students benefit from a GT curriculum and teaches it to all those enrolled at the school.
The students do numerous projects, group work and have less testing, with more presentations, she said. For example, she said a high school history class is not being tested over material. Instead, the students make a podcast — a digital audio file — about what they learned.
“If it’s something they’re choosing, they care more about it, which is the GT concept,” she said. “They will find all kinds of ways to show their knowledge.”
In contrast, Longview ISD’s Foster Middle School has a specific track for GT students, who are grouped together in classrooms.
Joe Ford, who teaches English Language Arts to GT students at Foster, said he believes having only GT students in a class is the best way to ensure they succeed.
“If you have high-level students in a class and you have low-level students in the class, those low-level students are going to perform higher, but those high-level students are going to pull down,” he said. “You try not to let that be the case, but practically, what it comes down to is, you are spending more time to get those low-level students to come up, and you don’t push the high-level students to excel.”
A GT class might be structured differently from a traditional class in that it will have more writing, more advanced projects and less specific instruction, Ford said.
“In a traditional class, I would just teach them the basic skills, and I would maybe even give them an end product, like, ‘You’re going to produce a poster, and with that poster you’re going to write me a one-page response with what you learned about this,’” he said. “With GT, I might say, ‘I want a reflection on this,’ but the product is going to be wide open.”
Allyson Yates, 13, is an eighth-grade Foster student who said she enjoys being in a classroom with only GT students.
“Our assignments are different, and they’re harder, but I think since they’re harder, they kind of push us to succeed a little more,” she said. “Being with other kids who are also in the GT program, and us being able to work together is something that I really enjoy having. Because we get to work together and do assignments together, and I think that’s a really cool thing.”
Her classmate, Alec Germanwala, 13, said he likes being in the GT program because of the projects they get to do.
“It kind of brings a good side out of us,” he said. “We push ourselves. We kind of push each other to do the best that we can.”
But Pine Tree ISD Superintendent Steve Clugston said he believes diversity in the classroom has value.
“Your GT kids being with other kids in the classroom is a good thing, because you want diversity of thought and all kinds of thinking,” he said. “You don’t want everybody ability-grouped in the classroom, because you get the same kind of thinking. You really don’t have that diversity of thought, and that provides, to me, a classroom that’s a lot deeper, because kids see it from a different perspective.”
Pine Tree pulls GT students out of the classroom for extra time with a GT teacher. Students are tested in kindergarten to see if they qualify for the GT program.
St. Mary’s Catholic School Principal Darbie Safford expressed a similar view. St. Mary’s in Longview leaves all students in the same classroom and provides differentiated instruction for various levels.
Like Trinity, the campus makes GT instruction part of the everyday curriculum. To avoid any students not getting the instruction they need, Safford said the teachers will use stations based on where a student is in a lesson.
In a classroom learning double-digit addition, for instance, Safford said one station might still be working on mastering single-digit addition, one might be on the lesson and one might be ahead of the lesson and already learning multiplication.
“If you’re doing all-group instruction, you’re going to be doing two-plus-two-equals-four until 80% of that class gets that concept,” she said. “If you’re doing differentiated instruction, you can work with kids in different groups in any content area.”
Safford and Cissy Abernathy, admissions director at Trinity, both said their schools get a number of transfer students because of their GT curriculum without all the testing.
“A lot of times, we’ll have parents come in and say, ‘We are done with our child having so much anxiety about a test,’ because there’s so much emphasis on it,” Abernathy said.
McCreary said Trinity students take a standardized test, the Stanford Achievement Test, from kindergarten to seventh grade, but the students rarely stress about it.
Safford said St. Mary’s students take the Iowa Assessments so teachers can see how classes need to improve and plan curriculum.
Neither campus does benchmark testing.
McCreary and Safford both said that lack of testing allows the schools to spend less time teaching to a test and more time for extra fine arts that benefit GT students.
Spring Hill ISD Assistant Superintendent of Curriculum and Instruction Penny Fleet said the district’s GT students are taken out of the classroom for extra projects that enrich their learning.
The district does not test all students to see if they qualify for the GT program. Instead, students are nominated by a teacher or parent, Fleet said. Then, they are tested and evaluated with a rubric, or a set of criteria.
“Our main purpose with GT is to make sure we are serving our students in placement,” she said. “We feel like we do a really good job of identifying. We just, at the end of the day, we want to be sure we’ve done the best placement for the student where that’s concerned.”
Placement can sometimes be difficult, though. Clugston said GT students are often seen as high-achieving and wanting to do more work, which is not always the case.
Forcing those students to do extra work will only make them not want to do it, he said.
Trinity students Presley Carter, 11, and Kelland Guillroy, 10, are both in fifth grade and said their GT-related activities are interesting.
Presley said she and her classmates recently made catapults with rubber bands and craft sticks.
“It just feels more like you’re experimenting with different types of things,” she said.
Kelland said he enjoys the robotics activities he gets to do.
“I think it’s more fun to have fun stuff, because I’m more encouraged to learn,” he said.