Happy New Year from all of us at WATG! As we enter this new year of “2020,” we are eager as an organization to sharpen our vision of all issues related to gifted education. Several months ago, we shared an article that discussed the “view from the balcony,” or the big view of gifted education in our state and nation, as well as the “view from the dance floor,” or the more targeted view of what it’s like to work everyday in our schools and our homes with gifted individuals. Today we’ve chosen to look at an issue that is both overarching and targeted, and that is - gifted education in rural areas.
The United States Census Bureau defines rural areas in this way: “For the average American, rural is an abstract concept of rolling hills and farmland rather than a concrete definition. Thus, it can be a difficult task trying to define the term "rural" and an even harder task trying to explain it.
The Census Bureau defines rural as any population, housing, or territory NOT in an urban area.”
According to the 2010 Census Bureau data, 20-39.9% of Wisconsin is considered to be rural, with urban pockets mainly in the Milwaukee metro area, Madison area, the Fox River Valley, Wood and Marathon Counties, and in the LaCrosse area. (If you are a geography and demography kind of person, you will find the interactive Census Bureau website listed above very fascinating…) With up to nearly 40% of Wisconsin considered rural, we as a Board have begun exploring what this means for educating the rural gifted population in our state.
In an article published by the Davidson Institute in Gifted Child Today, Meeting the Needs of the Gifted in Rural Areas Through Acceleration some of the problems with gifted education in rural American are explored, and some suggestions are offered to ensure challenging educational outcomes for gifted students. The problem is presented like this…”One of the most challenging groups of gifted students to reach in terms of educational programming are those living in rural areas. The main source of difficulty is that any one rural school may contain only a few highly gifted students.” Additionally, the distances between rural schools may prohibit combining students from several rural areas for face to face interaction. Though technology has improved communication, and more learning can be done virtually, the benefits of daily interaction in real time cannot be underestimated.
The article then goes on to assert that one of the most effective ways to meet the needs of gifted students in rural areas is through acceleration. “Basically, it involves using the curriculum or resources designed for older students with young, but academically advanced students. It is placement according to competence rather than age, a principle readily accepted in the arts and in athletics. Why should the principle or placement according to competence not work for academics? After all giftedness is a talent, just as is superior artistic or athletic abilities.
Some of the educational provisions that would fall under the acceleration label are early admission to school, grade skipping, entering college early with or without a diploma, International Baccalaureate, taking a course 1 or 2 years earlier than typical, going up to a higher grade for instruction in an area of talent, taking a college course on a part-time basis before graduating from high school, taking special fast-paced courses during the summer or academic year, completing 2 years of a subject in 1 year, compressing curricula, taking Advanced Placement (AP) courses and examinations, and individual tutoring in advanced subject matter.”
As your WI Association for Talented and Gifted Board, we are highly committed to acceleration as a necessary option for gifted students in Wisconsin, and see it as a most promising practice for our rural communities. If you attended our annual fall conference in Wisconsin Dells in October, you may have had a chance to view the work of our Acceleration Team. The synopsis is included below:
THE WHY: The Wisconsin Association for Talented and Gifted (WATG) is committed to promoting effective gifted and talented programming options for students in EVERY district in Wisconsin. Acceleration is proven to be a highly effective strategy, yet is is underutilized or not offered at all in many districts. In 2017 WATG set out to research, analyze, and develop action steps to improve acceleration practices across the state.
THE WHAT: The goals of the acceleration team project:
THE HOW: An eleven question survey request was sent to every district in Wisconsin asking for information regarding the acceleration practices currently available.That data has been analyzed and is available in first draft form. Our next steps include:
To examine some of our data, click on this link: Interactive Map.
Thank you to all districts who have contributed data, and to the acceleration team for its continued work on this valuable project. For more information or to request professional development for your district, contact firstname.lastname@example.org
Additionally, WATG has formed a partnership with the WI Rural Schools Association, and will be submitting a proposal to speak at their fall conference, and to continue our ongoing discussions. On a broader level, the National Association for Gifted Children has also formed a Rural Gifted Special Interest Group, and you can join in their efforts and follow their progress. For more information on gifted students in rural areas, see also the Jack Kent Cooke Foundation’s article Small Town, Big Talent: Identifying and Supporting Academically Promising Students in Rural Areas
A final reminder, in the words of Marcia Gentry of the Gifted Education Resource Institute at Purdue University, is, “Rather than comparing kids who go to a poor, rural school with the national [testing] norm, and then saying ‘There are no gifted students here,’ I think you have to say: within this context, who are our superstars and how can we develop them?” Superstars can be found in all of Wisconsin, and WATG remains committed to finding them and to furthering their talent development. If you want to join in the work of this initiative, please contact us at email@example.com.