Mt. Laurel BOE given overview of district’s current Gifted Academic Program

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The Mt. Laurel Board of Education was given an overview and update of the district’s Gifted Academic Program at its April 19 meeting.

Per state administrative code, all school districts in New Jersey are required to have a board-approved program for gifted students that also conforms to standards set by the National Association for Gifted Children.

For New Jersey, that means students who demonstrate high levels of ability in one or more content areas when compared to their chronological peers must have a modified educational program.

According to district curriculum advisor Alexis Bonavitacola, differentiated instruction for Mt. Laurel’s gifted students can fall into a number of areas. Students can take advanced math classes and enriched language arts classes, students are introduced to more sophisticated literature and expanded writing topics, or students might have time for independent study where they have the ability to innovate.

With the gifted program, Bonavitacola said teachers also foster areas such as leadership, curiosity and risk taking to improve their social success.

“Sometimes with gifted students, they can tend to be perfectionists, and sometimes our teachers work with them to help guide them in that social and emotional arena,” Bonavitacola said.

Bonavitacola said the district is undergoing its nomination process to determine what students should be added to gifted programs for next school year.

Students are first nominated in March and April by parents and teachers, and after the nominating process, the district collects data on the students through May and June and tests the students to assess their abilities.

In August, the district will notify parents that their student has been selected for the gifted program, and gifted classes for that student will begin in September.

Bonavitacola said the selection process is different than it was several years ago when testing took place at the beginning of the school year and gifted classes didn’t begin until October.

“That was a little bit challenging for the beginning of the year, and the students actually didn’t get G.A.P. services until October, so now they can begin in the beginning of the year and it ends up being much smoother transition for the students,” Bonavitacola said.

For the district students in first and second grade, Bonavitacola said students meet with the gifted teachers for about one hour a week, and sometimes classes are combined.

For third- and fourth-grade students, Bonavitacola said gifted teachers meet with students for three to four hours a week for more rigorous work from their regular classroom.

Once students leave the elementary school level, the gifted program is delivered through related arts programs.

In fifth grade, students take Spanish, music, Science Technology Engineering and Math and financial literacy. In sixth grade, students take French, art, STEM and theater arts and public speaking.

When students then reach Harrington Middle School for seventh and eighth grade, gifted students have enriched language arts, world language, algebra and geometry classes.

“Algebra and geometry are level one honors classes at Lenape, and we follow their curriculum, textbook, benchmark assessments and grading policy,” Bonavitacola said.