Puyallup to revamp gifted program

Staff writerMay 19, 2014 

The Puyallup School District will offer a new enrichment program for its youngest highly capable students in each of its 21 elementary schools this fall.

The change in Pierce County’s second-largest school district comes at a time when other districts, including Tacoma, are also revamping their programs for gifted children. Most districts, however, are focusing on older elementary kids.

The Young Scholars program in Puyallup will initially include first- and second-graders. Later in the fall semester, kindergartners will participate as well.

Mark Vetter, the district’s director of instructional leadership, describes Young Scholars as a mixture of “enrichment and extensions.”

He said content of the twice-a-week pullout program will be designed over the summer. But he described one potential example: A small group of Young Scholars might gather for their first half-hour session of the week to read and discuss a classic book such as “Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs.” Their second gathering might then focus on weather and the science of meteorology.

The lessons will include take-home information for parents that suggest ways for them to feed their children’s developing interests.

“It has the potential to be very exciting,” Vetter said.

He noted that there are few models around the nation where school systems target lessons to very young gifted students. He said Puyallup will look at programs in Texas and North Carolina for guidance.

One major impetus for the move to include early-grade kids comes from a new state law. It requires all school districts to provide services for identified highly capable students from kindergarten through grade 12.

Other districts across the state are also reworking their gifted education programs.

Tacoma Public Schools currently has programs for older elementary kids, but they plan to extend offerings to include younger gifted elementary students.

Tacoma doesn’t plan to use an early-grade pull-out program like Puyallup. Instead it will draft individual learning plans for highly capable students in kindergarten through second grade. Those kids will remain in their traditional classrooms.

In Puyallup, Young Scholars groups will be led by specially trained paraeducators, who will work with teacher mentors under the direction of the district’s highly capable program coordinator, Vetter said.

“They are tutors, guides,” Vetter said of the paraeducators. But teachers will design the curriculum, he said.

Testing for Young Scholars was scheduled to be conducted this month for students already enrolled in Puyallup schools. Admission criteria will include test results as well as teacher and parent observations. Admissions screeners will look at each student’s recommendations and test data — but won’t know their names.

“We are trying to eliminate bias,” Vetter said.

Kindergarten students will be added to Young Scholars groups based on teacher observations and results from the statewide WAKIDS assessment, which takes place during the opening weeks of the school year.

Young Scholars is an addition to Puyallup’s existing programs for highly capable students. The QUEST (Quality Experiences to Stimulate Thinking) program for students in grades three through six is currently used in eight Puyallup elementary schools, and it will continue. So will the PAGE (Puyallup Accelerated and Gifted Education) program for junior high students at Kalles Junior High.

Elementary schools also will have the option of accelerating students into upper-grade classrooms for reading or math.

Also new this fall for ninth-graders in Puyallup junior highs: Students who meet prerequisites will be permitted to enroll in advanced math or world language classes at their local high schools. The school district will provide bus transportation, if needed.

Debbie Cafazzo: 253-597-8635 debbie.cafazzo@ thenewstribune.com @DebbieCafazzo

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