It's not up to parents to insist to teachers that their children are gifted and talented, it's up to the school district to pluck them out.
"These kids are really exciting and brilliant and they're like sponges," said Dr. Keith Croskery, the Carson City School District's new director of student support services, which oversees the gifted and talented program.
Of the 674 students in gifted and talented cluster classes, honors, advanced and advanced placement courses last year, 313 of them came from the elementary level, and that's just third through fifth grades.
That's because in February of the second-grade year, the district administers intelligence tests to all students. The test, in the form of word puzzles, looks for strong signs of knowledge and the ability to reason. The children who pass the test are given a follow-up in April.
At that time, a questionnaire is given both to the parents of the child and to the teacher of the student. Their answers, such as whether their child goes to museums in their spare time, can indicate the child is gifted and talented.
"You're looking for the child that is going to do extra," said Croskery.
Response from the two questionnaires are weighted equally with the scores on the intelligence test to determine if the child is gifted and talented.
"If you base (the test) solely on intelligence you're forgetting temperament and commitment," Croskery said. "They may test high IQ, but they may simply not be academically oriented. Their interest may lie in other areas."
Students that are deemed gifted and talented are then put in special cluster classes in third grade and throughout the remainder of their elementary school education. To ensure children are socially adapting, the cluster classes mix gifted and talented children with average learners.
Marcia Richey, a fifth-grade teacher at Fremont Elementary School, has seven gifted and talented students in her classroom. She's one of two fifth-grade teachers with a cluster class.
"We're trained in differentiated instruction where you teach to their level," said Richey, who has been teaching gifted and talented children for about 10 years and attends workshops and conferences throughout the year. "So if the child is reading at an eighth-grade level, the job is to teach them at that level."
The homework she gives to the gifted and talented students in her classroom might be more in-depth or advanced than the assignments going home with other students.
"It might be different, but it's never more," she said. "And I'm just speaking for myself and the people I work with. I don't know how it is at other schools."
This cluster model replaces an older model called the pull-out program, which was used by the school district some 10 years ago. In that, students were removed from their classes during the day for time with other gifted and talented students.
"They were taken to a separate site and had separate activities, and although beneficial, it also had that deleterious effect socially," Croskery said.
Once in middle school, gifted and talented students are guided into honors and advanced classes and, in high school, into advanced placement classes. There is no set program at these ages.
And while there is no gifted and talented teaching license either, the elementary teachers of such students do receive credentials.
"Enthusiasm is the biggest qualification when you work at this type of demanding level," Croskery said. "A teacher might have five lessons planned out for a week, and these kids can do them in about a half-hour. You have to be dedicated to working with that type of child."
"They learn a little bit different," Richey said. "They think a little bit different. They're brilliant. They require us to keep on our toes and be that much more creative."
Of the 6,521 third- through 12th-graders enrolled in the school district last year, a little more than 10 percent were in elementary level cluster classes, middle school honors and advanced classes and high school honors and advanced placement classes.
"These kids can soak up everything we provide," Croskery said. "We do the best we can for them. Any program can always provide more for these kinds of children to help them reach their potential."
n Contact reporter Maggie O'Neill at firstname.lastname@example.org or 881-1219.