Muncie Community Schools staff members discuss a unique program for gifted students

<p>Catherine, a third-grade student at East Washington Academy, uses her laptop to learn about thermometers during her class April 19, 2021. The High Ability Program teaches an advanced curriculum to gifted learners in a separate classroom from the general education population for the whole school day. <strong>Jaden Whiteman, DN</strong></p>

Catherine, a third-grade student at East Washington Academy, uses her laptop to learn about thermometers during her class April 19, 2021. The High Ability Program teaches an advanced curriculum to gifted learners in a separate classroom from the general education population for the whole school day. Jaden Whiteman, DN

License in Gifted and Talented Education

To teach in the High Ability Program at Muncie Community Schools, faculty must earn an additional license for teaching gifted children. 

A high ability license or certificate aims to give educators tools to identify gifted and talented students, evaluate students and programs, design appropriate curricula for talent development and meet the social and emotional needs of gifted students.

This license is available at Ball State and requires the following classes:

  • EDPS 520: Introduction to the Gifted and Talented Student 
  • EDPS 621: Identification and Evaluation of Gifted and Talented Students
  • EDPS 625: Models and Strategies for Gifted Education
  • EDPS 611: Development of Creative Thinking or EDPS 623: The Social and Emotional Development of Gifted Students

The program can be completed in six months.

Source: Ball State Teachers College website

Editor's Note: This story is part of The Partnership Project, a series of content written in an effort by The Daily News to follow the formal collaboration of Ball State University and Muncie Community Schools. Read more in this series here.

When Cindy Miller’s son, David Miller, was in kindergarten, she took him to the Levi Coffin House in Fountain City, Indiana, to learn more about the Underground Railroad and its history in Indiana. 

“Usually, every summer, there’s something that he is fascinated by,” Cindy Miller said. “So, we work on trying to find new ways to explore a topic. In kindergarten, the Underground Railroad and slavery was a big topic for him, and he felt it was a big social injustice for what happend to people during those times.”

Taking trips over summer vacations or watching educational YouTube videos during the COVID-19 pandemic is something Miller said she tries to do to foster her son’s enthusiasm for learning. In school activities, David Miller, now 10 years old, participates in math bowls and writing camps as a student in Muncie Community Schools’ (MCS) High Ability Program.

The program is based in East Washington Academy for gifted learners. Students are placed in an accelerated learning program that teaches math, science, English, music and other specialized interests to students in kindergarten through fifth grade.

To find a similar program that teaches students at an accelerated level for the whole school day, Miller said, she believes she would need to send her son to school in Indianapolis.

“As far as Central Indiana, this program is really unique,” she said. “It ends up being individualized for the families and the students. You can really hone your skills a little bit compared to doing that later when you’re in middle school and high school.”

When David Miller enrolled in the program before kindergarten, Cindy Miller said, he had to take abilities and intelligence tests on an iPad. She then collected some of his work from pre-K that was reviewed by an identification team for the achievement portion of the enrollment review process.

David Miller (left) stands with his classmate Karter Hyneman (right) in the historic Corinth School in Delaware County, Indiana. Miller's class took a field trip to the one-room schoolhouse in 2019 to learn more about pioneer life. Cindy Miller, Photo Provided

Jenny Smithson, MCS director of High Ability Education and Special Education programs, said students can either test into the High Ability Program, like David Miller did, or be recommended by a teacher.

All MCS students take cognitive ability tests in kindergarten, second and fifth grade to measure their capacity for high potential. Smithson said any student who scores in the top 25 percent of their class takes a posttest to further evaluate their potential before selecting who moves into the High Ability Program.

The state of Indiana defines “high ability” as either having high potential or exhibiting high achievement, Smithson said, so students only need to perform well in one of those tests.

“Many of them are high in both, but that’s not a requirement,” she said. “You can have an average IQ and high achievement and still get into our High Ability Program, or you can have average achievement and a really high IQ because we feel kids who are underachieving to their potential — maybe it’s because they aren’t being challenged.”

Smithson said both the potential and achievement aspects of the High Ability Program are predominantly determined by test scores, but teacher recommendations are also considered.

“Not every kid is a great tester,” Smithson said. “If a teacher says to me, ‘This student really is curious, they ask good questions, they have great discussions, they’re a problem solver’ — all those characteristics of high ability kids — we’ll also take another second look at them as well if they’re borderline on the intelligence or achievement.”

Smithson, who has worked at MCS since 2019, said her favorite part about the High Ability Program is watching students grow and develop their own strengths, which wouldn’t be possible without high ability teachers.

Each MCS teacher in the High Ability Program must have earned a gifted teaching license or be working toward earning that license. The license is available at Ball State and requires four classes that aim to increase understanding of how to identify and teach gifted learners, said Kristie Speirs Neumeister, professor of educational psychology and director of the gifted licensure program.

“I think the benefit of this license is being able to understand and connect with kids who are gifted because they don’t need as much repetition on subjects as other students and they’re able to learn a bit quicker,” Speirs Neumeister said.

Smithson said MCS high ability teachers are often able to pretest students over state requirements and dedicate more time to projects if students already know the requirements.

“Having really high-quality teachers is one of the biggest strengths of our program,” Smithson said. “Our high ability teachers are praised by our parents so much because of the good work that they do in creating a challenging curriculum for them and building those relationships with students and families.”

While all Indiana elementary schools have some sort of enriched learning program, Smithson said, East Washington Academy’s is unique because its high ability student population is large enough to have its own classrooms for each grade level. Currently, 253 students are enrolled in the program, which, Smithson said, will increase once people return from virtual learning. She said each high ability classroom has approximately 20-25 students.

“Most other elementary schools — when they identify their high ability learners — they don’t have enough of them per grade level to create full classes,” Smithson said. “We felt it was important to provide an environment where they get to be gifted all day long and not just for the 45 minutes they see the high ability teacher.”

Cindy Miller said she appreciates how her son is able to learn with students who are also high ability and develop closer friendships with his classmates.

“David’s experience, I don’t think, is unique compared to his peers,” Miller said. “Other families, generally, have similar experiences — you end up with a little learner who is really excited about something, and you’re trying to help grow that excitement.”

Miller’s favorite aspect of the High Ability Program, she said, is making sure gifted students are surrounded by like-minded peers.

“It’s a very individualized program where students get their needs met where they are,” she said. “The thing I think is so awesome about this is students who are gifted, sometimes, feel different or feel odd, and having the ability to be with alike learners is where this program can meet the needs of those children.”

Contact Grace McCormick with comments at grmccormick@bsu.edu or on Twitter @graceMc564.

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