Conner Beets is learning math by helping build a roller coaster on the playground at The Crisman School in Longview.
“You’ve got to calculate how much track length you need,” the 14-year-old said. “You’ve got to calculate force.”
His partner in the eighth-grade pullout class project, Richard Jennings, put the same problem Conner described in more concrete terms.
“It’s like a wheelchair ramp,” he said. “For every point you go up, you have to go a little bit further out. ... It’s got one big hump, and that’s it.”
Richard, Conner and the other 43 students at Crisman each have a secret that’s buried in the phrase “asynchronous development.” It means they are highly intelligent, but their fine motor skills aren’t growing at the same rate as their intellect.
And emotional coping skills lag behind the motor skills.
“They are highly intelligent children who learn differently,” Crisman Executive Director Laura Lea Blanks described her charges.
The pre-kindergarten through eighth-grade specialty school that Blanks leads is closing out its 50th year in Longview.
Founded in 1969 by Jo Nan Johnson as The Windmere School, the campus within Winterfield United Methodist Church moved to today’s home on Eastman Road in 1983. The 9-acre campus and building were donations of board member O. Wayne Crisman who became the namesake of Crisman Preparatory School, which was officially renamed The Crisman School.
The goals were lofty, meeting the academic needs of intellectually gifted children who have challenges competing with the goals of education.
Those challenges differ with each student, but they come in phrases such as sensory integration disorder, obsessive compulsive disorder, Tourette syndrome, depression and autism spectrum disorder.
That’s why Crisman enters its sixth decade stubbornly holding onto a student-to-teacher ratio any public school would ring a bell for, typically 8:1.
“Sometimes in classes, there may be 10 (students),” Blanks said. “It’s just based on where the needs are, if they’ve got music or whatever.”
Like Conner, the school’s director can speak technically. Like Richard, she can boil down a concept, too.
“Crisman teaches twice-exceptional students with asynchronous development to be successful academically, socially and emotionally,” she said. “Our children are brilliant. ... One of the things we say is, every child is smart in their own way, but if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, he will spend his whole life thinking he’s a failure.”
Students at Crisman don’t matriculate, grade to grade, in a rigid fashion. Just because little Johnny or Bobbie are 7 years old when the school year starts is no guarantee he or she enters second grade.
“We go more by their developmental age than their physical age,” pre-K and kindergarten teacher Carrie Dorsey said, sitting with some students and science and social studies teacher Shelly Gordy.
“We really go with their strength,” Gordy said, prompting a reaction from Conner.
“And we try to fix those weaknesses,” the teen said, before perhaps describing a little of what that looks like in interactions with younger schoolmates.
“Even us bigger ones, in seventh grade and eighth grade, we’ll go over there and say, ‘You’re not supposed to be doing that,’ because they trust us,” he said.
One of those younger students, fifth-grader Logan Haesecke, said his parents are liking what they’ve seen his first year at Crisman.
“They think my grades would improve,” he said. “They would think I would be able to focus more.”
And John Puckett, a 7-year-old kindergarten student, said he enjoys being a face in the Crisman crowd.
“You can make new friends,” he said, but added, “It’s very loud.”
Dorsey said close interactions across grade levels form invaluable bonds between students and staff.
“The main feeling about Crisman is the small environment,” she said. “The kids not only connect to each other, they connect to all their teachers.”
They also can connect their imaginations to The Crisman School 50 years ahead.
“It’s going to have a flying car,” Richard said of the school at the end of the next half century. “It’ll have another story, and out that way where there’s all that (undeveloped) space and the shed, they can expand the shed a little bit.”