The Middle Years Scholars Program in Springfield, Mo., is tailored to the needs of profoundly gifted students in sixth through eighth grades. A program of Springfield Public Schools, MYSP is an example of successful public education for exceptionally intelligent students.
The Middle Years program originally was established as a pilot elementary school. But teachers soon realized their abilities to challenge were being outpaced by their students' abilities to learn. These 10, 11 and 12-year-olds were learning so rapidly that they needed instruction beyond what the teachers could provide.
The staff addressed the problem first by bringing in volunteers and later paid instructors to teach advanced subjects in mathematics. But it soon dawned on them that specialists in math were already on the school district payroll - at the high schools.
They approached the principal of a nearby high school and proposed introducing some of their advanced students into a high school geometry class. The principal agreed, and a handful of gifted students, accompanied by a gifted education instructor, were bused the mile-and-a-half to the high school for their class. At the end of the semester, they had earned the highest grades, had proven their capacity to behave appropriately and had set the stage for more students to follow.
Success in hand, the staff from Springfield's gifted program again approached their "gifted-friendly" high school principal. Soon, the accelerated students and an instructor had a classroom at the high school. The arrangement allowed them to mix high school courses with advanced middle school courses nad do so using fewer staff.
Lynda Crowder, who has been involved with the MYSP from the beginning, said all of this was done quietly, so as not to draw attention to the program. She added that once its success was proven, the program would be more likely to survive.
"We didn't want anybody to tell us that we couldn't do it before we tried," Crowder said.
Serendipitously, the MYSP was looking for a full-time home at the same time that there was a push to establish an International Baccalaureate program. Both found a home at Central High School, which at the time was losing enrollment and had a reputation for low test scores. Last year, Central had the highest scores in the district.
Springfield's MYSP is the only one of its kind in Missouri, and although it does receive state grants, it was created and is sustained by the local school board. The 120 students enrolled this year in the Middle Years program make up nearly 10 percent of the student population at Central High School where they attend classes. According to both administrators and parents, the advantage of gathering these students at the high school is twofold.
First, because there are more than 100 students in the program, middle years scholars at Central High have formed a tight-knit and supportive peer group. And because they make up a significant percentage of the student bodies, they are readily accepted into high school classes without stigma. The result is a social environment that fosters these students and nurtures their abilities.
The second advantage that MYSP offers is academic rigor. Beginning in sixth grade, students take a combination of gifted and high school honors courses. By eighth grade, students are taking three high school honors courses and one gifted class in communications arts.
Each student also is evaluated individually and offered a curriculum that suits his or her abilities and interests, so some students are able to accelerate dramatically within the program.
"We don't have the end-all program here in Springfield," Crowder said." But we meet a lot of needs that weren't being met before."
Crowder insists that there is nothing unique about Springfield and that similar programs can work almost anywhere. The difficulty is not in succeeding, but in getting started. If a similar program doesn't exist, Crowder suggests asking administrators to accommodate of gifted students in existing classes.
"If we can get one kid in a classroom somewhere, it's going to demonstrate that we can be successful and that these students are wasting their time in a regular classroom," Crowder said.
"We consistently underestimate what gifted kids can do. The kids have convinced me that they can do anything they want to if we just get out of the way."
©2003 Davidson Institute for Talent Development
This article is provided as a service of the Davidson Institute for Talent Development, a 501(c)3 nonprofit dedicated to supporting profoundly gifted young people 18 and under. To learn more about the Davidson Institute’s programs, please visit www.DavidsonGifted.org.
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