ELP expands learning experience

The extended learning program in USD 410 offers students a chance to excel outside of regular classroom activities.

The program provides students with the opportunity to explore areas of interest, as well as prepare for the future.

?We?re not a substitute for regular ed at all,? said Nancy Thomas, Marion County ELP facilitator. ?We are a supplement for regular ed.?

Students usually are identified for participation by teachers or parents. The students must do a six-week preassessment and meet with a psychologist to see if they meet IQ requirements. If the student qualifies, parents meet with administrators to determine if the child should be placed in ELP.

?The gifted kids are actually the successors of the future,? Thomas said. ?These are the kids that are going to be running our businesses. These are the kids that are probably going to be running our politics, running our city. I?m not saying there aren?t other kids in the classroom that won?t be also.?

The program begins with students in elementary school. Currently, 23 students at Hillsboro Elementary School in grades two through five participate in ELP.

One teacher oversees all of the programs, but two paraprofessionals work with the students on a regular basis.

Judy Prior, paraprofessional at HES, meets with the students individually each week to work on projects.

?I try to stay in their interest area,? Prior said. ?It is extended learning and what is interesting to them.?

The students leave the traditional classroom to work on projects when their teacher feels they can be absent without falling behind.

Prior said every year she tries to do different things with the students. This year, students are researching projects which they will present to their classes. The projects will be displayed at the project expo to be held in May.

This is the first year to hold a project expo. In the past, it has been a science fair.

Prior said having a project fair all students get to work on something other than science.

Through the projects, Prior tries to teach students research skills using the Internet and library.

?It teaches them how to look for something,? she said.

In addition to the weekly activities, the students meet the second Wednesday of each month for day-long activities with Thomas and the other ELP students in the county.

?At the all-day program, we definitely try to challenge them,? Prior said.

Thomas also goes into the fourth- and fifth-grade classrooms every other week to work with all of the students.

Currently, the fourth-grade students are working on news from January and February and will compete in a nationwide news bowl.

?I think it?s been real positive going into the classrooms and working with all of the kids,? Thomas said.

According to Prior, students continue in the program through elementary school. But when they get into middle and high school, participation often decreases because of scheduling conflicts and other activities.

To encourage more participation, Thomas is offering a high school class this year where students receive a grade and credit for their work. In middle school, regular meeting times are scheduled for the students.

In the class, students take sample ACT tests, take field trips to colleges, study the stock market and have the opportunity to work in the community and do mentoring.

Carmen Buller, paraprofessional for the middle school and high school, helps in the class as well as working individually with students on projects.

Thomas?s goal is to work with teachers at the schools in order to enrich the curriculum.

?I want to be able to challenge them,? she said. ?I want to be able to challenge their ability going horizontal instead of just going vertical.?

Thomas said often people only want to see how high and fast gifted students can advance. She said the problem is students haven?t really learned a lot about the subject, only how to advance quickly.

?I want to broaden their knowledge and broaden their ability to where we can take what they have learned and take their knowledge out into the real world and apply what they have learned,? Thomas said.

In all, Marion County has close to 115 students in the program with the addition of a few new students. According to Thomas, Hillsboro has 55 of those students. This is more than other counties of similar size.

Part of the reason is Marion County set the IQ cutoff score at 128, the lowest possible score according to national standards.

Thomas also said it could be because a lot of students? parents are teachers and Tabor is located here.

?Sometimes I wonder if we ought to raise it a little bit,? Thomas said. ?Then we will truly see the giftedness in a lot of these students.?

Thomas said a lot of the students are right at the cutoff and, since it meets the criteria, they place them. But she said a lot of them aren?t really any higher than the students that score 124 and they may have just tested well that day.

Because of the high number of students, Thomas said sometimes she wonders if they are able to meet the needs of all of the students.

One thing Thomas would like to have is an academy where they could meet all day at least once or twice a week, especially for the elementary students. If that were to happen, she also said students shouldn?t have to worry about making up the work they miss at school during those times.

?We are getting so many students identified, then we wouldn?t have to worry about having paras pull them out (of class),? she said.

Thomas does not know if or when this would be possible.

Overall, Thomas has mainly heard only positive comments about the program. She said she has heard some round-a-bout things that something isn?t running too smoothly but has never been directly told about it.

?I hear positive things form students and teachers and hear positive things about the all-day program,? she said.

Buller said the program was important because it gives students extra enrichment than in classes and lets them use their creative abilities.

?The most important thing is they need to be involved,? Buller said. ?When they don?t make the effort themselves it doesn?t meet their needs.?

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