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Center gets gift for gifted

BY NORA HEATON | FEBRUARY 19, 2010 7:30 AM

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The way UI gifted researchers see it, no child should be left behind — or held back from her or his possible future.

The Belin-Blank Center for Gifted Education and Talent Development, which works to accelerate gifted students in school, recently received a $1 million grant from the John Templeton Foundation.

The grant will expand on work of the Institute for Research and Policy on Acceleration, a program in the Belin-Blank Center.

“With this grant, we can provide consultation on various forms of acceleration and also help in consultation in terms of schools writing some policies and procedures,” said Nicholas Colangelo, the director of the Belin-Blank Center.

Acceleration provides gifted students the opportunity to skip a single subject or a full year in elementary or high school. UI programs allow eligible students to skip their senior year of high school and start as UI freshmen a year early.

“It was kind of a saving grace,” said Caitlin Moore, a UI senior who enrolled after her junior year of high school in Salina, Kan. “I needed new challenges and a new place to engage at.”

UI researchers’ work has already benefited students in the Iowa City School District, said Kathy Jepson, the district’s gifted-education coordinator. The district uses policy guidelines from the Belin-Blank Center’s Iowa Acceleration Scale to allow for subject or grade acceleration as well as postsecondary enrollment at the high-school level.

“We’re grateful to the Belin-Blank Center for providing research and guidelines to our district and to the nation regarding acceleration,” Jepson said. “We’re looking forward to learning more about the grant and its components and how it will support local and state needs related to gifted education.”

Only eight states in the U.S. have policies outlining procedures for acceleration, according to the National Association for Gifted Children. Iowa, like most states, leaves the responsibility up to the school district.

The problem with this setup, said Colangelo, is that many high-school districts do not individually have the resources or policies to accelerate students.

“One of the issues is when schools don’t have written procedures, it becomes a hit-and-miss proposition on acceleration,” he said. “More and more schools are looking to provide acceleration for students. What the Institute for Research and Policy on Acceleration will do is provide the help to do that so that schools do not have to do this alone.”

Julia Zalenski, a UI senior who attended a small, rural high school in Williamsburg, Iowa, said her school was unfamiliar with acceleration and seemed reluctant to help her graduate early until she signed on with the UI’s National Academy of Art, Science, and Engineering.

Zalenski said she hopes the Templeton Grant will allow the Belin-Blank Center to expand acceleration programs.

“I think there are a lot of students very much like me who don’t have the same opportunities that I did,” she said. “I really hope that with this financial support the programs are able to reach more students who need their help.”


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