SPED & Gifted and Talented Teacher
Written by Robin Slutsky
Ask Mrs. Natalie Brown, the SPED & Gifted and Talented Teacher at Branson School Online about the genesis of the one-year old program and she will tell you,
“Working with our special needs students, I saw that the opportunities we offered them were exceptional and realized we could and should be offering those same type of opportunities to our students at the other end of the spectrum.”
Brown, who received her Bachelor’s Degree from CSU-Pueblo in Elementary Education, and went on to receive a Masters Degree from the University of Northern Colorado in Special Education, Generalist K-12 added,
“Research shows that students who are advanced can eventually become average if they are not addressed or challenged. They can skim by doing the bare minimum because they aren’t being pushed.”
Last year, with that information in mind, Mrs. Brown started to look at students’ CSAP and other scores to further evaluate if they were qualified for advanced instruction. An initial 99 students were identified for the program. Mrs. Brown adds,
“We looked at more than just their grades because they don’t always show where the students’ talents and gifts lie. At Branson, we look outside school as well. We want to recognize and reward their accomplishment as a whole person.”
The gifted and talented program, which is designed to be more than a typical extra-curricular after school program in a traditional school, is available for children from kindergarten through senior year of high school. Using a program called “Storybird” students in kindergarten through second grade create books from cover to completion. Taking pictures created by artists, students drag and drop them into the story they are writing. The books are then shared in general education classrooms.
Mrs. Brown explains,
“These kids, who are so imaginative at this age, are also gifted and talented in reading. Some have more than one talent. Some are gifted in writing. Those that are gifted in math do things like ‘The Grapes of Math’ story problems using math skills.”
For gifted and talented students in grades 3 through 10, their special project has been to work on the BSO news, a web based program designed for the students, teachers, and parents. Mrs. Brown adds,
She says,“They have designed the entire website, doing their own biographies, reporting on Colorado community news, world news, sports, and weather.”
“There’s even a ‘How To’ section that features everything from how to do a cart wheel to how to make a coffee cake, as well as a fun interactive section with puzzles.”
The BSO news gets updated weekly by students. Mrs. Brown explains, “At the beginning of the year, the hardest part was making sure that everything was picture perfect and that nothing that was posted was accessible to outsiders. They have been able to make it very specific to Branson without providing leading information to the public.”
“This group is very competitive and always wants to have contests,” says Brown.
“They created a flyer to introduce the website. We then shared the entries with the school as a video clip show and then students went into the school’s discussion board to vote. The winning poster was distributed throughout the school.”
While the gifted and talented program ties into the classroom curriculum, Mrs. Brown also wanted to tap into the student’s artistic activities. On April 22, Branson held an Art Show for Gifted and Talented students featuring drawing, photography, and demonstrations of Taekwondo and snowboarding. Mrs. Brown added “many of these kids knit and crochet too.”
In addition to those special programs, Mrs. Brown is also teaching the Principal’s Leadership Class which will ultimately evolve into student counsel. Mainly for high school students, this class helps students prepare for leadership in the real world. Adding,
“Many of our students go into non-traditional careers and they need to think about how they fit into the world. I believe this class really helps them decide who they want to be and how they want to prepare for their professional lives.”
Next year, the Leadership Class will use two unique year long case studies to examine the real issues facing the world in today and in the future. One is called “The World Without Oil” and the “Story of Stuff” projects that go outside normal curriculum and look at global size issues. These challenges are designed to encourage and foster high level thinking, something the Gifted and Talented program strives to do so that students remain engaged in school and become lifelong learners.
The Gifted and Talented program will continue with the original 99 students participating in a second year. Mrs. Brown hopes to include a mentoring program for students who want to start to pursue their professional interests. She explains,
For example, students who are interested in journalism will ideally be paired with a local newspaper in their community for some hands-on education.“We offer our special needs students on the job training and I think we should be able to do the same for our gifted and talented students.”
The program will also offer students who are interested in dual credits from high school and college, an opportunity to do so.
“I motivate all my students to do that when they’re ready. It’s a great challenge for them.”
Ms. Brown is full time with Branson District. She also serves as an Adjunct Professor at CSU-Pueblo, instructing a graduate level course. Her Gifted & Talented endorsement will be earned from Adams State College.
Reflecting on her experience at BSO, Mrs. Brown says,
“I was able to make my childhood dream, to one day become a teacher in order to make a difference, come true and I love it!”
Applications for the 2010-2011 academic year will be available on the Branson School Online website as of March 15, 2010.
Contact: Judith Stokes, Branson School District, School Code: 0948.
Please Phone: 1-719-946-5531 or Toll free 1-888-863-7850 or click here for website: http://www.bransonschoolonline.com/