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New gifted-students program for fifth and sixth graders at Queen Creek Middle School 
From left, Josh Dale, Tyler Thebbald, Wesley Ayers, Ethan Potthoff and Jason Sillanpaa work on the problem of the day in their gifted, sixth-grade class. (Photo by Alexander Foote, Independent Newsmedia Inc. USA)

Queen Creek Middle School added a new program for gifted fifth and sixth graders to help create college- and career-ready students, according to school officials.

The program, entitled Bridges Academy, exists for students to receive an education that explores and develops the gifted child's potential by providing rich learning opportunities.

Dr. Linda Silverman from the Gifted Development Center in Denver, Colo. developed the program, which serves 21 fifth graders and 26 sixth graders at QCMS, 20435 S. Old Ellsworth Road.

The program, which began this year to help accommodate the needs of gifted students at the school, strives to help prepare students for the rigorous classes they will encounter in junior high and high school, according to QCMS Principal Julie Niven.

Benefits of the program include students being with other gifted students.

"The students think alike and often process information alike and therefore have a common bond with one another," Ms. Niven said.

The program also affords students the ability to be prepared for more advanced learning in the future with classes devoted to a high level of interest on real world applications, which is tied to common core standards.

The program exists in two self-contained classrooms where two teachers partner to teach the program.

William "Billy" Rech, the fifth-grade teacher, and Melissa Reid, the sixth-grade teacher, share duties by splitting coursework by subject, Ms. Niven said. Mr. Rech teaches math and science to both the fifth and sixth graders, while Mrs. Reid teachers language arts.

There used to be a separate gifted program at QCMS where children left the classroom once a week to attend a class for gifted students.

"I think that the old model of having the gifted students leave once a week to get serviced was not working," Mrs. Reid said. "They were missing 20 percent of their content classes a week to go to a different classroom to be ‘challenged.' It didn't allow for those gifted students to show growth."

Gifted children need to be in a classroom where they can be challenged daily and while some teachers were doing that, others were not, she said.

Once they finished their grade-level work, many students were told to read silently or help other students who were behind instead of being allowed to move ahead.

Mrs. Reid said she wasn't all for being a part of the gifted program when she first heard about it because she didn't want to be a once-a-week gifted classroom teacher, but when she heard about the new daily structure, she decided to interview for the position.

"This classroom environment lets me be a teacher that allows ... out-of-the-box thinking," she said. "I love being able to facilitate their learning through quality discussions that will help them be ready for junior high, high school, college and life."

There is potential for the Bridges Academy program to expand in coming years.

"It will depend on the number of students that will need to be serviced each year," Ms. Niven said when asked about possible expansion. "We are always trying to look at our programs and determine what is best for kids before we make any decisions on future programs."

Because accelerated learning classes are not a part of the regular program at QCMS, the Bridges Academy program helps bridge the gap between middle-school classes and junior high and high-school courses, Ms. Nivens said.

"Students ... are working to their fullest potential in learning and are being challenged in a variety of ways," she said.

The Bridges Academy strives to meet the needs of the gifted child by providing challenging learning experiences, promoting higher order thinking and problem solving skills, providing opportunities for divergent thinking and in depth analysis of topics, participating in project-based learning and encouraging, and developing communication skills, according to the program's brochure.

Not all students are eligible to participate in the gifted program.

According to the brochure, in order to be considered for the Bridges Academy, students must have a combined CogAT score of 270 (quantitative, verbal and nonverbal), a 97 or higher in quantitative or verbal and 80 in the other area (quantitative or verbal only) or an IQ of 130 as measured by a state-approved test given by a licensed psychologist. Probationary placement is available when a student has a 95 in quantitative or verbal.

CogAT stands for the Cognitive Abilities Test and is a K-12 assessment designed to measure students' learned reasoning abilities in the three areas most linked to academic success in school: verbal, quantitative and nonverbal. Although its primary goal is to assess students' reasoning abilities, CogAT can provide predicted achievement scores when administered with another testing system called the Iowa Tests. The author of the test is David F. Lohman of the University of Iowa.

Additionally, CogAT is used to help educators make student placement decisions for gifted and talented programs.

QCMS is accepting open enrollment students for the program, as well.

For information on QCMS, go to www.qcms.qcusd.org.

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