District revamps program for gifted students

Talented and Gifted activities will be expanded next year

The Oregon Trail School District's best student athletes show their stuff on the field, and now the district's brightest students will get a chance to see how far their abilities will take them.

The district will revamp its Talented and Gifted (TAG) program for the 2008-09 school year, including a dedicated program coordinator and expanded TAG activities, possibly including academic decathlons and competitions with other students throughout the state.

'They're the leaders of tomorrow,' said Debbie Johnson, director of teaching and learning for the district. 'They deserve the best we can offer.'

The district has approximately 170 TAG students, a designation that reflects the rate and level of a student's learning. Students can be identified as TAG as early as kindergarten, but Johnson noted that the district screens students in fourth grade.

That's one of the aspects that likely will change with the new program.

'I want to go back through and overhaul the district identification system,' Johnson said. 'There is another way to do it that literally screens all kids quickly every year.'

Under the current system, TAG students typically will take a class, such as math, with a higher grade level, including middle school students who travel from Welches and Boring to Sandy High School for some classes. Each school in the district has one teacher who oversees TAG students.

The new coordinator will oversee all aspects of the new program, including networking with families, providing parent workshops, collaborating with other regional TAG organizations, creating like-minded activities, developing TAG plans and coaching teachers. Johnson said the position will be funded by a school improvement fund grant from the state and will cost approximately $60,000.

Activities, such as an academic decathlon or a gathering of all middle school TAG students, will be a valuable component to the new program, offering similarly gifted individuals the chance to challenge each other

'It's really a need,' said district Superintendent Shelley Redinger. 'We do have a lot of students who can benefit from the program. We're just trying to get more in place.'

TAG students also will be clustered together in classes, providing a similar challenge every day in the classroom but also giving them a natural social setting with their peers.

'I personally feel there is a lot to be gained for TAG students to be in the mainstream classroom (with) the whole social aspect,' said Kimberly Braunberger, Naas Elementary School principal.

'I really appreciate a program that allows them to be in the classroom a majority of the time.'

Johnson also noted that the district is considering a number of advanced placement classes at the high school for next year, with possibilities including calculus, literature, environmental science and music theory.

Those courses will be open to all students, not just those in TAG, and Johnson hopes they can help keep all of the district's brightest students challenged and performing.

'Kids have got to be challenged, expectations have to be high,' Johnson said.'If you have that rigor, it doesn't matter if they have the label or not. If you don't have the rigor, you can start to lose them, because they don't engage.'