Roseburg Public Schools has reinvigorated its talented and gifted program — which was diminished several years ago due to budget cuts — this school year with specialist Laura Harvey in charge.
Harvey has worked in the district in a variety of capacities for 12 years and, after completing her national boards in talented and gifted education last year, was hired to lead the TAG program.
TAG is a needs-based education and services program designed for children who have been identified as gifted or talented.
Harvey held workshops and professional development sessions for educators on the special needs of talented and gifted students prior to the start of the school year and will continue these sessions throughout the school year.
During her presentations, teachers are reminded that the education experience for a gifted student can be like an instructor spending the entire class on the subject of how to boil an egg.
Then Harvey posed a question to teachers from her educational materials. “I wonder how you would feel if the instructor told you since you boiled your egg so well you could boil a dozen more?”
That’s what the educational experience for gifted students can be like. The majority of students need to be taught new material about 20 times before they grasp the concept, the bottom 3% of learners need to hear the lesson about 200 times, but talented students need to hear the lesson just twice.
“For every gifted child that’s not allowed to reach their potential, there’s a lost opportunity,” Harvey said. “They might have eventually composed a concerto, found a cure for a terminal disease or developed a formula for world peace. Wasting the potential of a gifted mind is reckless for a society in desperate need of creativity.”
State and federal law requires school districts to identify and educate talented and gifted children, but little federal funding is made available. The Roseburg school district was able to get an innovation grant and a collaboration grant to restart a more comprehensive program this year.
“This position gives us an opportunity to raise the ceiling for some of our highest-performing students and to help our teachers know how to differentiate so that (the students) can find a cure for cancer or some other wonderful thing we haven’t thought of,” Harvey said. “The feedback from the teachers was that they wanted to learn more about how to service that population. And the parents wanted to make sure their kids were being seen. And then the school board really wanted to make sure we were making that a priority, so we did.”
Even after Roseburg minimized its talented and gifted program due to budgetary concerns around 30 years ago, the district continued to identify students determined to be intellectually gifted, academically talented or potential to perform.
Students who consistently perform in the 97th percentile or above are automatically identified and will receive services throughout their schooling. These services will be received within their regular schedule.
“Kids really want their teachers to see them and provide them with enriching opportunities educationally, but they really do want to be a part of what’s going on,” Harvey said. “Differentiated instruction is really the goal of the district.”
The sixth grade math team at Fremont Middle School continued this even when there was no talented and gifted specialist.
“What those math teachers are doing is looking that when they teach this class and they’ve taught it a few times. That they have an extra activity for those kiddos that is real-world application, or uses math in a practical way,” Harvey said. “So that they’re using this skill that the other kids are getting some practice on learning. Now they’re using that skill with more depth and complexity.”
Over the summer the sixth grade math team met to plan enrichment or extension activities for students.
“To be clear, we are not writing additional or different lessons for this group of students,” sixth grade math teacher Kari Taggart said. “They need to hear and engage in the same lessons, but have additional opportunity for enrichment within the context of the lesson. Using pre-assessments as our guide, we will be able to provide students the opportunity to be given alternative/additional activities that are highly engaging, or accelerate them at a faster pace through the curriculum.”
Students have the opportunity for accelerated math courses in seventh and eighth grade, as well as math enrichment classes that can be taken as an elective.
Talented and gifted students make up 3% to 5% of all students in the district, of which about 2% are twice exceptional, or identified as potential to perform.
Twice exceptional students are both gifted and challenged, which means they can be highly gifted but have challenges such as ADHD, dyslexia, dyscalculia or autism that affect their learning. These students can be tough to identify as they can sometimes compensate for their special need with their strengths and mask their learning potential.
“It’s an exception to the exception, and it’s a wonderful population that’s nationally under-identified,” Harvey said. “But it’s one of the things in Roseburg that I’m super excited to have a great team that’s looking at that in creative ways.”
Each building will have its own team and a building leader, who will work together with child development specialists, counselors and psychologists to help identify the twice exceptional students and provide service for the children identified as talented or gifted.
Research shows all TAG students are at a higher risk of suicide, depression and dropping out of school among other things. “They feel their emotions bigger, they experience life bigger, they perseverate on ideas longer. They really do need somebody to help them interact with society. Sometimes it’s difficult for them to make friends, sometimes it’s hard for them to understand,” Harvey said. “They need help learning how to navigate.”
Harvey will visit each building throughout the school year to go over individualized learning plans with the students, parents and teachers. She will also hold weekly lunch bunches at each of the middle schools and at the high school.
“We want all our Fremont students to feel connected to school and feel like they are an important part of the Fremont community and be productively engaged,” Taggart said. “Having a TAG specialist like Laura Harvey that supports and collaborates with our staff, students and families help us all to meet that goal.”
Harvey has an office in the administrative building as well as at Fullerton IV Elementary School, but expects to spend much of her time visiting with students.
“Every child has a right to learn something new every day,” Harvey said. “Whatever we can do as educators to see them as individuals and help them learn what they need to learn, I love that. I love the magic of education. It’s powerful and exciting and it’s invigorating to know the next generation is going to solve the problems we haven’t even recognized as problems yet. It’s exciting to think we can invest our time and our effort in some of these kids that really have so much potential in solving some of those hardest problems.”