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 Article of Interest - Gifted Students

Gifted students in Troy get chance to excel at early age
District expands program to 1st grade
by Janet Sugameli / Detroit News / September 23, 2002
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At age 7, Nishant Desai eagerly seeks more challenging mathematical and scientific problems in his daily dose of school work.


His interest, above and beyond that of a normal second-grade student, was part of the reason he became part of Troy Schools PACE, a program for accelerated and creative education.


For the first time, the program is being offered to students, as early as the first grade, who demonstrate an innate ability to reason beyond their age.


"It's a challenge because you're supposed to apply yourself to it and put a lot of work into it," Nishant said of the program.


Last year, the Bemis Elementary student was part of the pilot PACE program at three elementary schools. This year, each of Troy Schools' 12 elementary buildings offers the program from first through fifth grade.


"We studied dinosaurs and wrote a lot of reports," he said of last year's program. "I gave a Power Point presentation, and we made dinosaurs out of things like cans and spoons."


PACE resource instructor Karen Matthews said teacher identification, anecdotal information from parents and testing helps determine which students would benefit from the program.


Moving the program into the lower elementary grades was something she hoped to see since she got involved with it nine years ago.


"Across the country, people are realizing that some children are born with these gifts, and we shouldn't let them sit there and wait for us," she said. "In starting them earlier, we will challenge them, and they will be able to move at a faster pace."


Some examples Matthews noted are the child who writes poetry at the age of 6 or plays chess with an adult and wins. Sometimes, gifted children have an extraordinary amount of empathy for problems in the world.


"They are philosophical and asking the big questions," she said.


Bringing students into the program as early as the first grade might help them develop their creativity and critical thinking skills earlier.


Ellen Hodorek's son Gregory, 7, started in the program last year at Bemis. She was thrilled that her son could be part of the program at an early age.


"Otherwise he would have stayed in neutral for a few years," Hodorek said. "This way he can hit the gas pedal with his brain energy."


In the early years of a child's development promoting a "love of life-long learning" is crucial, Hodorek said.


"I was worried that when a child is bright, they might get bored with learning if their minds aren't exercised to their capacity," she said.


Matthews said children who have special gifts need time to be together with children who think like they do.


She spends four hours a week with the children in first and second grade teaching them "the skills that they will need to investigate."


Third-grader Vania Smirnov got involved in the PACE program last year and was pleased because math is his favorite subject.


He even boasts of multiplying 10-digit numbers by other 10-digit numbers.
"I like the program because we learn new things like deductive thinking," Vania, 8, said.
And he said "I like being with smart kids because we can talk about hard stuff."


Bemis Principal Janet Keeling said teachers try to challenge gifted students, but the PACE program gives them an extra boost.


PACE is a positive alternative to jumping a grade level since a child may not have the emotional, social, cognitive, physical and psychomotor skills that accompany advancing a grade level.


"This program gives us the wonderful option of providing for those children's needs," Keeling explained. "It gives us another way to meet their needs -- to help them stretch their minds without the advanced placement."


Rhonda Hendrickson said her 7-year-old son James is a normal child, "but when he reads information, he looks at that information and looks beyond the words and he expresses how to use that information.


"PACE broadens his scope in terms of problems solving and how to look at information."


She was pleased the program was extended to cover first- and second-grade students.
"There are kids that get lost because they have something special going on and could use the challenge," she said. "PACE gives them an emotional boost. It becomes a point of pride for them."


The parent of a Schroeder Elementary student, Karen James said her son Evan wasn't ready to go into the program at first.


"Initially, he was a little bit concerned that he would miss things in his regular classroom and that he would have to make it up. He quickly found out that wasn't the case," she said.

 

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