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Web posted Wednesday, July 27, 2011

New Horizons
Gifted pupils stay in their schools

By Donnie Fetter
News Editor, Twitter @DonnieFetter<

Gifted pupils in Columbia County's elementary schools no longer will travel to receive specialized instruction.

For many years, pupils enrolled in the Horizons program for gifted instruction were bused to either Westmont or Euchee Creek elementary schools to receive those services.

Under a new plan starting this school year, those pupils won't go to the teachers. The teachers will come to them.

An in-house gifted program already is in place at Greenbrier, Lewiston, River Ridge, Riverside and Stevens Creek elementary schools, where it was being tested.

School system Director of Elementary Student Learning Michele Sherman said she noticed how gifted pupils at those schools and their parents almost immediately seemed to develop a greater sense of community.

"They don't miss special programs at the school, they're able to go to lunch with their buddies and the parents have been more involved with gifted programs in that setting," Sherman said.

Officials also said that class time is increased by pupils remaining at their home school.

"Students would lose a lot of instruction due to travel," said Sharon Carson, the school system's director of middle school and gifted learning. "We're feeling much more confident that they'll get increases in services by staying at their own school."

But school board member Kristi Baker believes the new program deprives gifted pupils of an opportunity to mingle with their peers.

The only board member to vote against changing the gifted program, Baker called Horizons the closest thing Columbia County has to a magnet program.

"Allowing students to attend a gifted center with other students allowed friendships to be formed and like-minded ideas ... to be shared with peers," Baker said in an e-mail. "It allowed the students to realize that it was OK to be smart'' and it challenged them.

The in-house plan also switches the time gifted pupils take part in Horizons classes from once every five days to once every six days.

Sherman said that might seem like less instruction time, but gifted pupils will receive as much and likely more time with gifted teachers on the six-day rotation.

Previously, under the five-day rotation, any time school was out, pupils scheduled for Horizons on those days simply missed out.

With a six-day rotation, Sherman said, gifted teachers will pick up instruction with the next group of pupils scheduled regardless of school closings.

Many of those gifted teachers also will be shared by schools with too few gifted pupils to warrant a full-time gifted teacher.

Sherman said part of the new plan includes programs to better identify gifted pupils, which might boost Horizons enrollment and increase the need for more gifted teachers.

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