Pine Tree ISD expands its GT program

Cyndi Nyvall, Pine Tree ISD's secondary GT specialist, talks to a group of students about speed and aerodynamics in December at Pine Tree Junior High.

A program to change the way gifted and talented students are educated is expanding at Pine Tree ISD, giving like-minded youths more opportunities to learn with their peers.

The district began separating its gifted and talented students in grades five through 10 for English and language arts classes, providing them a setting where they learn alongside each other instead of with non-GT students. Now district officials say that program is being expanded in the fall to include science classes. GT students still will take mixed classes with non-GT students in other subjects.

Cyndi Nyvall, the district's secondary GT specialist, said the change is important because GT students have different educational needs than their non-GT peers.

"They process information differently, they interact with other people differently, they literally problem solve and think differently," Nyvall said. "It is important for (GT) children to be together, because there is some type of magic that happens when you put gifted students in a classroom together and allow them to learn and think together and sharpen one another."

Pine Tree ISD first began to offer separate language arts classes for its GT student two years ago for students in grades five through 10. Nyvall said the move was so successful that they wanted to see what else their students needed.

"Some students are just talented all around, and they're going to excel in ELAR or science or math or social studies; they're just going to do really well," Nyvall said. "But what we've found is we've got some kids, we've got a group of students that love ELAR and they're super excited about the GT program, but we've got some needs of other kids that they need some science opportunities to grow and expand and process and discuss and problem solve with other GT kids that way."

The district has a total of 276 GT students. For students in grades kindergarten through four, Pine Tree offers a pull-out program where a specialist leads opportunities for interaction between GT students.

"So they're served in their classroom by their teachers, who are GT-certified, but we have a specialist who pulls them out and allows them that opportunity to interact with each other in that way," said Debbie Terry, director of assessment and accountability.

Pine Tree's overall GT program, where students learn in GT-only settings and with their non-GT peers, is similar to other area school districts.

In Hallsville ISD, GT students take mixed classes with certified GT teachers throughout their education.

Younger students are placed in cluster groups in their classrooms and attend weekly pull-out classes with other GT students. Students in higher grades can take mixed AP or dual-credit classes with non-GT students while receiving differentiated instruction that provides more depth and complexity, said Anda Juban, the district's GT coordinator.

"Cluster grouping is used to foster collaboration among gifted students," Juban said. "With heterogeneous grouping, differences in learning needs are respected at the same time that gifted learners are able to reach greater levels of depth and complexity."

Longview ISD students who are identified as gifted take GT-only classes and mixed classes. They also are served independently during the school day, the district said.

Independent projects and assignments are designed to "accelerate the development of the areas in which they are gifted and talented."

Elementary school students who are identified as gifted take part in pull-out programs through second grade and then are bused to Bramlette Elementary School's GT center on certain days each week for GT-only classes once they reach third grade. The rest of the week, elementary students are in honors classes, the district said.

Middle and high school GT students have GT-only classes at their campuses, the district said.

Pine Tree officials said they are going to see how the expansion to science classes goes before considering additional expansions to the program. But Terry said the district is working with teachers on a STEAM-focused curriculum that will provide differentiated, higher-level instruction for GT students.

"We're going to react to how our program grows and what we see the needs of our students to be," Terry said.