Florence is launching new magnet program for gifted students.
The magnet program will be housed at Circle Cross Ranch K-8 S.T.E.M. Academy in San Tan Valley.
While all schools in the Florence Unified School District have gifted programs, the magnet program at Circle Cross Ranch will be more intense and focus on the individual gifted student's strengths.
Kelly Smith, director of elementary curriculum, instruction and assessment at the district, said gifted children are split into three groups, quantitative, verbal and non-verbal. Quantitative includes those gifted in math and science. Verbal students do well in reading and English and are articulate. Non-verbal can overlap with quantitative but can also include artists and musicians.
“We are not doing a good job, and you can tell we’re not doing a good job,” Ms. Smith said. “We’re really good at differentiating their gifts, but when reading instruction plans, they are all the same. What’s different about gifted education is we need to be teaching to their areas of giftedness. I just really didn’t see that happening to the level where you could say we had a quality gifted program. I’m not sure we do a good job yet of teaching our kids who think differently. And I’m hoping this opportunity gives them that push to be who they really are.”
That’s were Circle Cross Ranch comes in. Once a week, the gifted students from each grade will receive more personalized education. The rest of the week, they will be in classes with nongifted peers.
“By being in a class with nongifted students, gifted students learn tolerance and patience,” Ms. Smith said. “We didn’t want to go straight gifted where they just saw their gifted peers all day long, because sometimes that leads to as much intolerance as being in a classroom without any gifted peers. In life, we don’t get to work with people who are just like us, so they have classes with their gifted peers and classes without their gifted peers.”
Holly Dalby is principal of Circle Cross Ranch K-8 S.T.E.M. Academy. She considers gifted programs to be part of special education.
“Gifted is a kind of special education because their brains work differently,” she said. “They’re able to get a little bit more additional support with their giftedness. They’ll still be taking gifted classes at their regular school, but Circle Cross Ranch will provide additional support. It’s a little bit more intense program than what they are currently getting, and I think it will be a better fit for them. We want to make sure we’re hitting all the areas of giftedness that child has.”
For parents who live in Florence and Anthem who may be hesitant to send their children to Circle Cross Ranch, the district is offering two options. The first allows the gifted child and their siblings to all attend Circle Cross Ranch full time.
“We actually do have room to grow, so we’re hoping all families take advantage of this full-time option with siblings,” Ms. Smith said.
Then there is the second option.
“If you live in Anthem and Florence, we realize that community ties run really deep in those areas, so we’ve come up with a plan B,” Ms. Smith said, “Every other Wednesday those kids can spend their entire day at Circle Cross.”
To publicize the gifted magnet school, the district has sent letters to parents of gifted children in Florence and Anthem.
“Reaction from Florence and Anthem so far has been enthusiastic or hesitant about leaving their home school,” Ms. Smith said. “The kids who are born in Florence and raised in Florence, they're part Gophers. I think that the plan B option offers a nice little compromise.”
It also levels the playing field for all gifted children in the Florence Unified School District, with each class getting gifted programming once a week at Circle Cross Ranch.
“Across the district there aren’t a lot of high-quality programs for kids that are above the benchmark,” Ms. Dalby said. “This is something that Florence [Unified] has needed for quite some time. Circle Cross was chosen for the gifted program because we already had a strong STEM program. Every school has the same curriculum, but Circle Cross Ranch with its STEM program has teachers who are already trained in teaching gifted children.”
As for Ms. Smith, she knows the magnet school will be a success.
“I really want kids to come out of the gifted program ready to tackle whatever it is that high school offers,” she said. “I don’t want them to get to high school and have it be the first time a spark was created. We can do that down here. I want to build a safe space where kids can create and elevate and be themselves.”