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School system to fine-tune its gifted program

Wednesday - 3/7/2012, 2:00am  ET

Frederick County Public Schools will implement a new gifted and talented program in every middle school beginning this fall.

The Highly Able Learners Program is intended to better meet student needs for academic rigor and challenge in language arts, math, science and social studies courses at the middle school level.

Students identified for the program will be grouped into "clusters" of roughly three to 10 students in the four subject areas, according to Meg Lee, schools' coordinator of gifted and talented programs.

The clusters will be included in classes of similar size to those currently offered, but instruction to students will be differentiated, Lee said in an email.

After assessing what students know, the teacher may use additional resources or lessons to add depth and complexity to the course, she said.

The cluster-grouping model also allows FCPS the flexibility to enroll students in certain clusters where they are highly able, while they do not participate in the other cluster groupings, Lee said.

"It gives us a way to reach more students who may have specialized gifts and talents," she said.

Middle schools have had full-time student enrichment specialists in place for many years to work with gifted and talented students, but they could not work with every grade level in every content area every day, Lee said.

"This is a way to ensure our students receive services on a daily basis," she said.

The cluster-grouping model has been used in some elementary schools to meet the needs of highly able students, according to Lee.

The program will be offered to sixth-graders beginning this fall, with cluster groups being offered to sixth- and seventh-graders for the 2013-14 school year.

The program will be fully implemented for sixth-, seventh- and eighth-graders for the 2014-15 school year.

The articulation committee at each middle school will determine which students are eligible for the program considering participation in the elementary magnet program, testing achievements and behaviors associated with advanced learners, Lee said.

Students are being identified for the program, and it is unknown how many sixth-graders will participate this year, according to Tracey Lucas, instructional director of middle schools.

Parents of a child selected to participate in the program will be notified by their middle school April 1.

Lucas said the new program will not affect current middle school schedules.

The school system budgeted $60,000 for teaching training and materials to implement the program, she said.

The Highly Able Learners program was an initiative of the middle school task force, which was formed in 2006 to research the structure of FCPS middle schools.

FCPS has piloted a similar program at Walkersville and West Frederick Middle School since 2008, but those programs did not cluster students in small groups, Lee said.

Cluster programs will be implemented for sixth-graders at Walkersville and West Frederick this year as seventh- and eighth-graders finish their current programs.