Linda Conlon, Argy Darakos, Gina Gordon, & Sara Henry, Academic Specialists
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The Little District That Could...And Did
What is The Little District That Could...And Did?
It has been said that not everyone is gifted, but anyone might be. At Quaker Valley, we believe that giftedness occurs in certain people, at certain times, under certain circumstances. Our beliefs about giftedness fly in the face of other more bureaucratic systems that label-first and program second. We chose a different path. Recognizing that children grow, change and have unique skills and talents that deserve an outlet, we created a system where talents can flourish within the academic mission of public education.
Our system reflects inclusionary practices. The driving force for the way we do (and don’t do) “gifted” programming is inspired by the question; “is it good for students?”. We created a culture that embraces equitable use of all of our school resources and services. All students have access to the resources and services that are traditionally reserved for students labeled “gifted”, including:
• Open-Door AP Classes
• Independent Projects
• Curriculum Compacting
• Academic Competitions
• Interest-Based Enrichment
• In-Class Differentiation
How do we know what our students need? Quaker Valley conducts universal screenings three times each year at the elementary and middle school levels to identify academic outliers. Universal screenings include assessments such as, curriculum-based assessments in Math, Reading, and Writing, as well as standardized assessments. Additional data reviewed for high school students includes PSAT in grades 9-11 and performance-based assessments for all students in grades 9-12. When data indicates a need for further assessment, the Academic Specialists work with the teacher(s) and parents to best determine a developmentally, appropriate educational plan that could include some of the aforementioned opportunities.
Why do we provide these services and opportunities for all of our students at Quaker Valley? Our district is comprised of 11 small independent communities with demographic backgrounds ranging from excessive wealth to debilitating poverty. We intentionally crafted programing to level the playing field and establish equitable instructional learning opportunities for all students including:
• Economically (All students have access to a laptop computer. The school pays for PSAT in grades 9-11, AP exams for all, as well as most online courses.)
• Academically ("Gifted" programming is a seamless integration in all schools.)
• Intellectually (We do not identify students with a formal “gifted label”. Additionally, we do not screen with IQ. IQ is something, but not everything.)
• Athletically (Most of our athletic teams are no-cuts.)
• Creatively (We foster visual and performing arts at all levels.)
• Social/Emotionally (We recognize student leadership and promote social/emotional development.)Why do we treat all of our students as if they are “gifted”? Based on the Levels of Service Model (Treffinger), our Academic Specialists work closely with teachers and administrators to ensure all students are receiving instructional programming that meets their needs (See Quaker Valley School District’s website for more details.). “Gifted” strategies are good for all learners. Academic innovation occurs when our teachers employ varying forms of differentiation so that instruction differs in degree, not in kind. Using advocacy and leadership, the Academic Specialists collaborate with teachers on ways to differentiate, build teacher capacity, and model effective teaching practices. We pride ourselves in saying “not yet” rather than “no” so that students know we are focused on their readiness, as opposed to a judgement of their ability. This is critical and helps students understand both our recommendations and our desire for their individual growth.
How is our programming innovative? Our sincere desire is to engage the hearts and minds of our learners every day. Knowing that all learners have noteworthy gifts and talents, we strive to promote a culture where all students thrive. We are all proud to serve in a little district that could, and did, implement a highly innovative model of individualized high-end learning in grades K-12.