DRAFFENVILLE – For many years, Toddie Adams says, schools neglected gifted and talented students, emphasizing instead the needs of students who struggled or who had various learning disabilities.
“They’re gifted,” was the attitude, Adams said. “They’ll be fine.”
Adams has no complaint with efforts to improve education in any area, but she commented on the cliché about the squeaking wheel getting the grease and said, “Gifted kids squeak in a different way.”
The different squeak is being heard. The needs of all students – including those defined as gifted and talented – are getting greater attention nowadays.
Gifted students have an enthusiastic advocate in Adams, director of gifted services for Marshall County Schools. Hesitant to brag, she says it’s fair to call the Marshall program an exemplary one.
It has been, in fact, the subject of several inquires and visits from other gifted and talented educators, from nearby school districts and from as far away as Japan.
A series of Japanese visitors have visited Marshall County schools the past two years, most recently in October. The visitors observed GT camp activities and inquired about various aspects of Marshall’s gifted programs.
A key element of a GT program is identification of gifted and talented students, Adams says.
“We’ve worked very hard to distinguish between bright or high-achieving students and gifted students,” she said. “Many, many students score very high on assessments or get all A’s. [Selection] has to be more stringent.”
In fact, many gifted students are overlooked because the absence of a challenging classroom experience results in underachievement, she said.
Adams says Marshall County teachers have become adept at identifying gifted students.
“Our teachers have learned we’re not talking about test scores or grades,” she said. “We’re talking about how their brains work.”
Adams emphasizes forward thinking, on the part of the students and the teachers who provide instruction for GT programs.
“We’re not in the information age anymore,” she said. “We’re in the innovation age. We know how to get information. The question is, how do you use it?”
“Looking Through the Past...and Into the Future” is the title of the district gifted and talented program.
“Some people look at that, and the Stonehenge image, and they think it has to do with history,” Adams said. “What it really means is that we look to our past and work on shaping our future.”
Adams became gifted and talented coordinator for Marshall County elementary schools in 2006, and last year became GT director for the district.
Chris Fortenbery, formerly GT coordinator at Calloway County High School, was recruited to the Marshall staff to manage the high school and middle school programs.
The mission of the gifted program, she said, is to inspire students to examine themselves, reflect, and challenge themselves.
It’s an educational mission that is evolving, she said,
“There are many schools that are at the standards” with their gifted and talented programs, she said. “We just do things differently.”