Monday, January 09, 2006

Highly gifted in the Puget Sound area?

If you have precocious teenagers, and live near Bellevue, Washington, check out Bellevue School District's new high school program for highly gifted kids.

Bellevue School District (BSD) pledges to provide every student with a "top-of-the-line college preparatory education." There is some evidence that children who attempt difficult classes, even if they don't do stunningly well in them, are more likely to attend college.

When I spoke with Ronna Weltman, one of the new program's architects, she told me that a large chunk of Bellevue's high schoolers now take AP classes. All well and good. Except that, as Weltman points out, it's hard to bring in children of all levels into an advanced class without slowing it down. Good teachers are attuned to their classes; they know if people are on the right page or not. In the past, AP classes had also served as a de facto gifted program that allowed the brightest kids to be around kindred spirits. The push to involve all children in AP classes had diluted that aspect.

But Bellevue's superintendent recognized this, and wished to do something for children who finished the gifted "PRISM" programs at the elementary and middle school levels. So Bellevue is rolling out a highly gifted program at Interlake High School for ninth graders next year. Students who test at the highly gifted level will take their core academic classes with other students like them. These classes will follow the International Baccalaureate program. Students will complete the high school curriculum in 11th grade. For 12th grade, they can take seminars, participate in internships (or go to college). All during high school, they'll take the fun stuff (PE, electives, music, etc.) with other students at Interlake.

The University of Washington already has an Early Entrance college program where students can skip several years of high school and start classes at UW as soon as they are ready. But as even gifted education pioneer Julian Stanley took to pointing out toward the end of his life, early college isn't for everyone. The new Bellevue program will give highly gifted students another option.

Weltman wants to make sure parents know that you don't have to live in the Bellevue School District to attend. Anyone who can reasonably make the commute to Interlake is welcome to apply.

3 comments:

Will said...

Nice to see one school district doing the right thing when so many are eliminating the AP and honors classes.

Rainman said...

Interesting that this district constantly pushed AP as for all -- not just the elite. And now they create an expensive new program just for the elite. The diluted AP statement is especially surprising...since Bellevue's superintendent has been nationally recognized as an AP leader and for elimination of elite programs. Guess even nationally famous guys learn lessons the hard way.

Anonymous said...

I live in Bellevue. This program is not any more expensive than any other program -- that's an incorrect assumption -- but moreover, it saddens me that when the district makes such great efforts to acknowledge different students have different learning needs and meet them some people yell "elitist!" These kids aren't better -- the district certainly isn't giving out that message -- it's just that many of them thrive with more challenge, so the district wants to offer that to those who choose to participate. I work with struggling students in Bellevue, and their support classes are MUCH SMALLER than the gifted ones. I think the lesson the superintendent has learned is that by observing how kids learn and offering options, you're going to have more successful students. Take a look at how many kids from Bellevue who come from very poor households, who are still struggling with English and whose parents never went to college are taking advanced classes and going onto college themselves. Take a look at the support services the district offers to encourage kids who in other districts would never be encouraged to go to college (and prepared so well so they can GRADUATE from college). Rainman should visit Bellevue before he makes accusations of elitism.