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Albemarle County Public Schools gifted program changes persist through virtual learning

Albemarle County Public Schools (ACPS) new approach to gifted students was just getting rolled out when the pandemic turned the world upside down.
Updated: Mar. 22, 2021 at 8:13 PM EDT
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ALBEMARLE COUNTY, Va. (WVIR) - Albemarle County Public Schools (ACPS) new approach to gifted students was just getting rolled out when the pandemic turned the world upside down. One year later, teachers and administrators say they are still seeing results and they’ve actually learned some things from the pandemic.

For ACPS Talent Development Resource Kelly Oehler, questions about the gifted students program began when she was a student herself.

“This certain group of four kids would go out and they come back with a lollipop. I was wondering why I didn’t get to go out, what was wrong with me,” Oehler explained. “Now, I get to work with everybody in the school, developing their talents,”

That was the old gifted system: a small group of children highlighted for advanced development within the larger student body. Now, Oehler and other talent development resource teachers are working with the whole school, a few students at a time.

“We’re trying to help everyone understand that all children have potential,” ACPS Talent Development Specialist Melanie Lichtenstein said. and “All children can learn, and do, and grow.”

The basis of the new program is letting students lead the way in things they’re interested in, or develop things they already have an aptitude for, through things like project and problem based learning. One of Oehler’s specialties is “storytime chess” - teaching students as young as kindergarten the basics of the “royal game.”

Another of her ideas sees students helping teach each other new languages. She works with students involved in Stone-Robinson Elementary School’s morning show to introduce a segment where students fluent in other languages spend several weeks teaching those languages to other students.

Even though the pandemic has introduced new challenges, Oehler and Lichtenstein say there have still been lessons learned in the virtual classroom.

“Our talent development resource teachers would often be able to push and physically come into the classrooms, and collaborate with the teachers and but now it’s been a little more challenging in the online environment,” Lichtenstein said. “The pandemic has allowed us to really start to nurture student autonomy in that regard, from kindergartners, choosing genius hour activities to high schoolers participating in college readiness seminars.”

The year-long disruption of normal schooling hasn’t stopped the shift in the way ACPS now approaches gifted and talented students.

“Every child is gifted, every child is born with gifts,” Oeheler said. “Rather than looking at what they need to learn, we’re looking at how to develop the whole child.”

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