Somewhere among Harford County’s thirty-two public elementary schools, there is a seat for every child. In fact, there are more than enough seats, with elementary enrollment at 93 percent of total capacity, and new capacity on the way, with Red Pump Elementary opening in 2011. The trouble is, the kids aren’t always where the seats are.
There are at least 100 or more kids than seats, or 100 or more seats than kids, at nearly half of the public elementary schools in Harford County. At the extremes, Prospect Mill Elementary in Bel Air has 231 extra students and Roye-Williams in Havre de Grace, has 326 empty seats.
One way to strike a balance is to close underutilized schools and build new schools in overcrowded districts. Even if that was the most efficient use of taxpayer funds, the spigot for school construction dollars is in the “off” position in Harford County for the foreseeable future.
Another option is redistricting. Redistricting is almost never popular, even when it’s necessary to fill a new school like Red Pump. But redistricting isn’t the only way to balance enrollment.
Magnet schools draw students away from their home districts by offering curriculum or unique instructional methods, unavailable in the general educational program. Magnet schools alone can’t eliminate the need for redistricting, but they can help balance enrollment countywide through a form of voluntary redistricting.
Meeting students’ needs should always be the driving force behind the creation of magnet schools, not chasing educational fads and not even redistricting. Magnets also carry some added costs, such as transportation. But when magnets are properly focused and strategically located, they can be a win-win: students get an educational program tailored to their needs and taxpayers get better utilization of the school buildings they already own.
There are currently over 3,000 magnet schools operating in the United States. Harford County has one magnet high school (Harford Tech) and smaller magnet programs operating within several high schools, but nothing for middle or elementary students.
Baltimore County has six public elementary magnet school programs, some of which might work in Harford County. But I’d like to make a pitch for a group of students whose needs are often overlooked, despite the best efforts of many within HCPS.
The National Association for Gifted Children estimates that 6% of the student population is academically gifted. In Harford County Public Schools, that translates to over 1,000 elementary students.
HCPS has gifted & talented teachers, but not enough for a full time teacher in every elementary school. Often, teachers split their time between two elementary schools, offering pull-out programs for gifted students, sometimes for as little as 45 minutes a week. Homogeneous grouping within the regular classroom for reading and math is also provided, along with some differentiated curriculum. But in a classroom of 25 students, there may only be one or two who are academically gifted. And gifted students are gifted 24/7; it’s not a part-time attribute. Some gifted kids also have learning disabilities or come from disadvantaged circumstances that make the need for consistent and differentiated instruction all the more pressing. And yet, gifted students in general are the one group whose special needs are often an afterthought, from the federal and state government, down to local school systems.
Gifted students share many common characteristics, and research shows that they benefit when they are grouped with peers and given enriched or accelerated learning, with accelerated learning being the most effective.
Ignoring the needs of gifted students has serious consequences.
When the very institution that should help students soar, holds them back, gifted students can become frustrated with school. They may slow down, tune-out or act-up. Imagine what it’s like to be in a classroom learning letter sounds when you already know how to read. How long would you last in a class that’s learning addition when you’ve mastered division? Gifted students have interests and concerns beyond the standard curriculum and needs beyond their years. A typical 3rd grade class may not yield peers for a gifted student to relate to, or generate class discussions geared toward the mindset of a gifted student. The result is a missed opportunity, in more ways than one.
If a young Michael Phelps enrolled in a swimming program, would anyone suggest he paddle slower to keep pace with the rest of the class? If a junior Michael Jordan showed up at basketball camp, would he get less attention because he could sink a three-pointer with ease? With all due respect, no athlete is likely to save the world. Still, athletic gifts are rightly embraced and developed, and society enjoys the results.
Academically gifted students may one day solve intractable problems or devise significant innovations. They may be on the leading edge of advances in technology, science, the arts and public policy. The nation is in desperate need of such talents. So in many ways, a society that celebrates and nurtures gifted young people, gives a gift to itself.
This is not to say that gifted students are the only ones with unmet needs or with contributions to make to society. All children have equal value as human beings. All have a right to be educated to the greatest extent of their ability. Gifted students deserve no more, but surely they deserve no less.
AMEN CINDY! I previous lived in a school district where the gifted kids spent 1 day a week in a gifted program. It was wonderful for my children. BUT Missouri mandated gifted education in K-12. The kids were tested in Kindergarden to identify gifted students. Learning Disabled students also attended gifted programs and special ed. We have been frustrated for years at the lack of true gifted education in Harford County.
Bob D. says
I agree Cindy…but then, who will be the one to tell parents that their kid isn’t gifted??? One thing I have learned about certain sections of Harford County is that all parents feel their kids are gifted, blame poor behavior on the boredom of giftedness, and refuse to admit that their kid just may be average.
I would love to see this happen. The “jockeying” that will take place if/when something like this is instituted will be a sight to behold.
We need to support our kids and not expect them to all be gifted, or in AP for that matter in HS. It makes it very difficult for a teacher to do their job properly when parents are complaining that it is too difficult in class, even though the teacher is keeping it advanced and “gifted”. Sadly though, some parents just don’t get it… and push their kids into where they want that “status symbol” without thinking of the possible negative outcome when their student begins to struggle.
You are right, it would be interesting but I worry that the kids will get caught in the middle.
Not from Here says
Has Harford County actually started gifted education with additional testing for identification or is it still enrichment? From the article it sounds as though there is some true gifted education. Please do not perpetuate the myth that gifted education exists in HCPS if is just the same old enrichment that’s been around for years. The six percent figure seems vey high. Most sources give a much lower percentage. Perhaps it is six percent perform in a gifted range on one skill or another.
I spoke to Nancy Grasmick yesterday and said, “Harford County needs gifted education.”
I think there are some wonderful ideas in this article. There are many children across the county that are overlooked because of either their classrooms are overcrowded or they have special needs, special needs or gifted. The best thing the BOE could do is maximize the potential of our schools as opposed to being shortsighted and closing any.
Absolutely Cindy – you are right and I hope it happens sooner rather than later. There were 3 elem schools in my town growing up, in 3rd grade we ALL took a test. I apparently didn’t “pass” but many friends did ( I was upset sure for a bit and got over it just as quick) and all the kids in all 3 schools who passed went to 1 of the schools through middle school. (the school was split with gifted kids and those kids who just went their due to their assigned school.) Parents had to give permission for the kids to attend the program/school, but only if they passed and were selected. The parents had no say if their child “got in” or not no matter who they knew, how much they complained etc..those kids then typically all went through the AP classes till HS (after elem you could test to get in to AP classes in Jr & HS) …gifted kids got in who scored well – period – parents had to accept it if their kids didn’t get in – there wasn’t room for those who didn’t belong anyway.
I over heard an old boss of mine from Ellicott City begging the school to let her kid re-test to get into their gifted program – so sad – but thankfully the school said no – that isn’t fair to her son but she had to have the best for her son but never realized that actually was best for her son. He would struggle to much if they let him in.
The county needs gifted programs and vocational/tech programs (other than Harf Tech) My dad started a huge program state wide in NY years ago called BOCES that has been very successful and I went through it too – not everyone will go (or should go) to college but everyone has to have a job and it helped a lot, many still went to college (like me) and we still had to get our “regular” school requirements met. IT was a great program.
I think in time things will change and more things open up for “all kids” in the county but I hope it happens soon for the sake of all the kids out there.
I hope this happens sooner and not later. My daughter was tested in K and the teachers told me she set the bar for the school because they never had tested a child before.
She is now in 4th grade and is still bored out of her mind. Last year with her Lexile score she tested well into the middle school years.
Our school does have a PT gifted teacher and she has been pulling the kids out or plugging into the classroom, more than last year. But I don’t think it is enough.
Our ES is trying something new with a block of time every day for Intervention, like the middle schools – so I am hoping this relieves some of her boredom.
When I was in middle school, in Baltimore County, a million years ago, they started a gifted program. There were only 2 middle schools in Baltimore County that had the program and you were bussed to whichever one you lived closest to, one in Arbutus and one in Dundalk. It was a wonderful program. Each class had about 20 kids, so it was only the top 40, in each grade, from the entire county, and it is a much bigger population than Harford County. It continued in High School. In the middle of my 10th grade year, my parents moved us to Harford County. Talk about being in shock! I repeated everything I already took for the rest of 10th grade and 11th grade. Half way through 11th grade, when we were signing up for classes, the guidance counselor called me in and suggested I skip 12th grade and go right to college. They just held my diploma until I finished my first semester because I needed that 4th english credit to officially meet all my graduation requirements. In 10th grade in the G/T program I took Physics, Calc., and Harford County didn’t have anything past that back then. They should have let me go on to college after 10th grade. I didn’t know that was an option until guidance suggested it the following year.
HCPS needs to do something like that. We didn’t have any special equipment like they do at the Science and Math Academy, so I think the only added expense would be transportation.
With so few kids involved, and the program not being advertised, there wasn’t a problem with too many parents complaining about their kids not getting invited. There were clear requirements, first you had to have a certain score on the tests they used, I think it was that Iowa Test they used to give and another test, I can’t remember the name. Then you had to have techer recommendations. There was no bending the rules, if you didn’t score high enough, you weren’t invited, period. This was really important, if they accepted too many kids it would no long be a gifted program.