A program for Alexandria's gifted and talented pupils in kindergarten, first, second and third grades begins next month for the first time in the city's 10 elementary schools.
Unlike programs for high achievers in the upper grades, students accepted into the elementary program will not be separated from other students, but will remain in their present classrooms to work with the more advanced material.
"It will just be another group within the classroom. Some material will be for all children," said the program's coordinator Mary Ann Page. "The fact that we're leaving the children in the classroom -- that in itself is a plus to not make these children feel different," Page said.
Alexandria's elementary program, like those of other Northern Virginia school systems, was prompted by Virginia's new requirement that programs be offered to gifted and talented students in kindergarten through eighth grade.
Advanced language arts and mathematics will be introduced next month. Social studies and science will come in the fall of 1986, and fine arts and physical education should be ready by fall of 1987.
An initial screening committee at each school will forward names of students to a central eligibility committee composed of Page, with a teacher of the gifted, a school psychologist, a guidance counselor and a school social worker. Final selection will be based on such factors as high SRA test scores in reading and math, class work, teacher and parent evaluations and IQ. Teachers, parents or school administrators can refer a child to the committees for consideration.
This year's participants will be chosen by the first week of October, Page said.
School officials said that all pupils can benefit from working with the more difficult material, although each will interpret an assignment according to his or her intellectual development. However, the majority of pupils will still concentrate on basic reading, writing and mathematics.
One section that all pupils can take part in, the Just Think program, teaches children thinking skills such as recognition, comparison, and problem analysis and to think creatively. For example, an assignment at the second grade asks pupils to design a new city and list rules that the city would need. The rules for the imaginary city would be discussed by the whole class.
"More than likely the gifted and talented children will give higher levels of answers, but all children will hear those and learn from that," Page said.
In the same assignment, pupils could also be asked to draw a picture of the model city and write captions to go with it if they're inclined to, Page said.
Page, formerly a teacher at Charles Barrett elementary school for 18 years, said creativity would be defined differently from that of the free-wheeling classroom of the 1960s and early '70s when anything a child might say was encouraged as creative.
"They must give sensible answers. If they use their imagination, it must be something that's applicable [to the assignment]," Page said.
At the first School Board meeting of the school year, Chairman Lou Cook asked about the possibility of a student being in the gifted and talented program one year, but not being qualified the next year.
"I think if we do a good job identifying the children (for the program), that's not likely to happen," Page said. The child cannot benefit if he's struggling to keep up. "I think parents would agree with that. I think children realize when they're getting too much work."
Once in the gifted program, pupils will continue in it as they are promoted to the next grade. However, these pupils will be evaluated at the end of third grade before being accepted into the 4th through 6th grade gifted students program, and again in the 6th grade before entering the program at the high school level.
Since it will be the first time that teachers will be working specifically with gifted and talented pupils, the estimated 123 teachers of children in kindergarten through third grade were given the option to take a graduate level course on teaching the gifted and talented at George Mason University.
The course helped teachers ask questions to make students think more abstractly. With a story like "The Three Little Pigs," a teacher of gifted first-grade pupils might ask them about the wolf's motives as well as about the basic content of the story. The teacher might also ask pupils to come up with a different ending or define the word "smart" outside its use in the story.
How Alexandria's teachers will manage their class time may be the most difficult aspect of starting the program for the gifted and talented, Page said. Already teachers often divide children into upper, middle and lower ability levels for reading and work with one group while the other two do assignments on paper.
Teachers must also begin teaching the new Family Life Education course in kindergarten, first grade and fourth grade this fall, eating up even more time, Page said.
As the coordinator and resource teacher for the elementary school gifted and talented program, Page will help teachers draw up schedules and demonstrate teaching techniques to them.
On the other hand, Page said, the program for the gifted relieves teachers of the burden of searching for appropriate material for their bright students. "You've always had gifted and talented children in the classroom. We're making the job easier by supplying the materials," she said.