Tahlequah Public Schools strives to lift up students who may require help getting on track with their peers, but the district also works to identify those who may qualify for Gifted and Talented programs.
"Gifted and talented students need gifted education programs that will provide them with more depth and complexity in instruction, as well as enrichment and accelerated programs that will enable them to make continuous progress in school," said Libby Osburn, district coordinator of Gifted and Talented Programs. "Studies have shown that gifted programming positively influences students' futures. Further benefits of gifted programs show that students who had participated in gifted programs maintained their interests over time and stayed involved in creative productive work after they finished college and graduate school."
TPS offers two programs: Reaching Intellectual Success and Excellence, RISE, which serves identified gifted students; and Students Talented in the Arts Realm, STAR, which serves identified talented students. Students are identified to make up two categories. Category 1 students are in the top 3 percent, and they score at or above the 97th percentile on any nationally standardized test of intellectual ability. The placement test is only administered once per school year. Category 2 students must meet two or more criteria through independent sources, such as teacher referrals, gifted and talented checklists, achievement tests, parent nominations, observations, and an ability test score less than the 97th percentile.
Students showing aptitude in the visual arts would seek out the arts-area teacher at their school. The teacher would fill out a checklist, and the student must submit two samples of artwork - specifically paintings, drawings, or sculpture.
"This year, there are 819 Tahlequah Public School students identified as either category 1 or category 2 gifted learners," said Osburn. "This number has held steady over the past few years after a jump a few years ago, when we started 'blanket' testing all second-grade students. This is done to make sure we are doing everything possible to identify gifted and talented students, including those from diverse cultural and linguistic backgrounds."
Osburn said people often mistakenly believe gifted students always get straight A's in school. But even if grades begin to slip for RISE students, they remain in the program.
"Once a student is identified as gifted, he or she is in the program for the duration of his or her school career here in Tahlequah. We can't 'ungift' students if they have been identified," said Osburn. "Gifted means a student has a different way of thinking and needs to be challenged to help develop that skill. The case of the grade slippage could be such that a student is bored with the material being presented in class because they already know the information; it could be because the gifted student is always used to getting good grades without much effort, and when presented with a challenge, becomes anxious or fearful that he or she might not live up to expectations, so therefore chooses to not do the work."
Along with Osburn, the TPS program is run by gifted resource teachers.
"Classroom teachers at the middle and high school level teach accelerated and honors classes in which our gifted students are given priority placement. Specialty classes at all levels are taught by arts-area teachers," said Osburn.
The work by Osburn and her team has not gone unnoticed, as the TPS program was recently a part of a NPR StateImpact Oklahoma piece titled "How Oklahoma's identification of gifted Native students could serve as a national model." This piece stemmed from data collected by Purdue University's Gifted Education Research and Resource Institute. Oklahoma stood out as being one of "only four states that has statutory systems in place to identify and fund gifted and talented programs," according to StateImpact Oklahoma.
"The program is funded by local and state monies. We do receive donations from the Linda Dotson Educational Foundation each year, which help us with some program expenses, such as field trips," said Osburn. "The LREC Round Up Program has been very generous to us and helps fund the Cherokee County Student Art Show. BancFirst gives a donation that pays for our high school gifted mentorship luncheon each year."
Gifted students are served by the district in a variety of ways, getting to experience more of the world, or at least experience classroom work in new ways. Elementary school students have a yearly enrichment field trip exclusively for RISE, as well as cultural events funded by the Gifted and Talented program to include their classmates, Osburn said.
Those in kindergarten through grade 2 are served in their classroom with differentiated lessons and enrichment activities and resources provided by the gifted faculty. Gifted students in grades 3-8 participate in pull-out enrichment programs taught by a resource teacher. Gifted students at the secondary level are served through accelerated, honors, and advanced placement classes.
"Middle school students are pulled out for a nine-week enrichment class once per school year. They also have the opportunity to take advanced classes, specifically math," said Osburn. "RISE students have priority placement in these classes, which are designed to academically challenge the higher-level student. Secondary RISE students are also offered participation in a short-term, career-oriented mentorship experience with professionals in the community."
STAR students are served by specialty classes.
"Students enroll in these classes where they gain enrichment and growth in their talent area. Talent areas include visual and performing arts - music, drama/theater, visual arts - leadership, and creative thinking and production," said Osburn. "Arts-area classes are provided at each level with class field trips available, but we also bring programs to the THS Performing Arts Center, such as a traveling opera troupe, ballets, and plays. In upper level, students are served by specialty class teachers through competitions, trips, and enrichment that may or may not be offered to the entire class."
Field trips gifted and talented students have gone on this year include Tulsa Underground, an architectural tour of Tulsa; a trip to the Port of Catoosa to study the port's history and the engineering of the waterways system; and to the University of Arkansas Engineering Research Center to study miniaturization of electronics, as well as constructing a homopolar motor.
"Our gifted high school mentorship is in its 26th year, and students have mentored in fields as varied as wildlife biology, where the students got to go on a bear tagging expedition with the OSU Bear Project, to law to medicine to engineering, including the fields of aerospace, structural and civil engineering," said Osburn.
The Gifted and Talented program also sponsors schoolwide competitions, such as the Spelling Bee and the National Geographic Bee, as well as the Cherokee County Student Art Show.
"Gifted learners need learning experiences that are rich, that are organized by key concepts and principles rather than by facts, and that is relevant to their lives. They need activities that cause them to process important ideas at a high level, and products that make them grapple with meaningful problems and cause them to come up with defensible solutions," said Osburn.
"TPS and its gifted staff are working to design appropriate learning activities for our gifted learners that enhance creativity, acceleration, depth and complexity."