Discussion reflects on Somerset's gifted/talented program
Comments made at the March 15 Somerset Board of Education meeting brought light to how the school district is dealing with its high-end students and how that action remains a work in progress.
Somerset is one of the few districts in the area with a full-time gifted and talented teacher, Rosanne Erickson. Through Erickson's efforts over the past two years, Somerset is now one of the first districts to have a completed gifted and talented curricula in place.
Comments at the March 15 board meeting from parent Sharon Ryan-Olin brought attention to class offerings for students at the middle school. Ryan-Olin asked the board why an algebra class isn't being offered to eighth grade students.
Later last week, middle school principal Rick Lange explained that algebra was taken out of the middle school offerings when the high school changed to a four-period day. Somerset offers five levels of advanced math (algebra I, geometry, algebra II, trigonometry and calculus). When the eight-period day was in use, high school students could only take one of those classes a year, so they had to start with eighth grade algebra to complete the five terms of math.
With the four-period day, students are taking a year's worth of a subject in a semester. This gives them sufficient time to complete all five math classes during their four years of high school. This also leaves time for students to take post-secondary options.
Lange said pulling out students for specific classes defies the philosophy the school is currently using. A middle school philosophy works to have all students taught together. That is in contrast to a junior high philosophy, where students change classes each period, similar to a high school setting.
Curriculum director Ron Berg explained that most often there are high end, middle and lower end students in each class room. In the middle school setting, students from all three levels are placed equally within each class. He said the upper end students are challenged in these classes, and that their answers help the other students to better understand class subjects.
In middle school classes, the basic ideals of all the math subjects are being taught to all the students.
"It is recommended that they are taught together, so kids understand there is a relationship between these subjects," Lange explained.
Berg said schools are in a difficult positions in handling gifted students.
"The courts say you can't overtly track kids," Berg said, adding that leaves parents of gifted and talented students saying their needs aren't being fully addressed.
Berg, Lange and Erickson have taken the steps to create Individual Education Plans (IEP) for the Somerset gifted and talented students. IEPs have been in place for several years for students with special needs. Somerset has taken that idea to the gifted and talented program, to chart out plans for these students to make sure the needs of these students are addressed.
This is being done in the classrooms whenever possible. More advanced offerings are also being made available when students spend time in the gifted and talented classroom.