There has been great inquiry about the Aspen Middle School (AMS) Gifted & Talented Program, formerly known as Ascent and now known by its original name: The Mentor/Challenge Program.
What is the purpose of AMS’ Mentor/ Challenge Program?
All students are entitled to an all-inclusive education that supports their skills, talents and interests and AMS is committed to differentiating instruction in all areas of learning. Some students qualify for an advanced learning plan (ALP) which entitles them to monitoring and extra support to ensure that they are offered extensions or alternatives for optimal learning. Now, all motivated students will have opportunities to participate in learning experiences that match their interests even if they are not formally identified as gifted and talented (GT).
What is the structure of this program?
In the past, both the push-in model (the coordinator steps into classes to support teachers with extension opportunities and students with goal attainment) and the pull-out model (students come to a separate classroom to experience extension opportunities) have been implemented. Both are valuable, both are historically successful at AMS and in schools across the globe, and both are supported by the Colorado Department of Education (CDE). Variations of both models will continue to exist at AMS, but they will most likely look different than what students experienced at Aspen Elementary (AES) and this is largely due to developmental differences and the many course options available to students at AMS that were not available at AES.
Different opportunities will be available during the school's new WIN ("What I Need") time and there will be support for teachers in how they differentiate their curriculum to meet the needs of all learners. In keeping with the school district's International Baccalaureate (IB) approach, these sessions will be more integrated than in the past and will potentially be open to other students who are very motivated but not necessarily identified as gifted and/or talented, according to state guidelines. This kind of fluid recognition of students' strengths will honor those who love to learn and want to be pushed regardless of their identification.
There will also be inquiry-based workshops, projects, games and trivia during recess times for students to participate in if they choose. I teach Mondays, students teach Wednesdays and we collectively work on trivia, games and projects (Passion Projects and community projects) on Thursdays. This was started by my predecessor and was a strong first step in creating an inviting and inclusive space for all students who are creative, curious and love to learn. You can see the list of upcoming Ascent Recess workshops here.
What is the philosophy of the Mentor/Challenge Program?
It is important to give credit to Jess Barnum (my predecessor and current AMS Reading Specialist) rather than try to rebrand the entire program. Her words are powerful and capture the heart of what Ascent was and what the Mentor/ Challenge Program will be:
Sometimes in class, and in life, we find ourselves waiting. We understand - "we get it" - and we find ourselves asking, "What now?" and "What's next?" We may twiddle our thumbs in anticipation that the world will provide for us. It will deliver us exactly what we need and want in that moment. We expect more knowledge, connection, inspiration and innovation. Our momentum mindset is innate. When we balance on the tippy toes of wonder and ask questions like "What's next?", we welcome and embrace the intrigue of how to challenge our heads and hearts. This is the heart of education.
As [ALP] meetings with students and parents begin, we need to remember that ultimately, we are our own best resources, and we need to go find how knowledge, connection, inspiration and innovation serve us so we can be our best. We need to listen to, advocate for, and grasp the opportunities and resources that will potentiate who we are.
With this in mind, Jess created the AMS Ascent Extensions doc (be sure to view all the subject tabs at the bottom) as a resource for students, parents and colleagues to collectively access "What now?" and "What's next?" This doc will grow with your help. Do you have a link, resource or idea you'd like to add? Email me and I'll put it on there.
Why was the program name changed?
Back in 1999 when I was hired to be the Mentor/ Challenge Coordinator, I learned from my own incredible mentor (who was also the school's first GT teacher when I was a student in the mid 1980s) about how to create learning opportunities for all interested students that pushed their understanding of a topic and helped them connect deeply with the community. This was a way to include anyone who wanted to do the extra work, regardless of their academic status. I loved the concept so much that I eventually used it as the basis for my PhD research and felt that it served an incredible need. Yet within three years, a more linear GT model was introduced at the state level and the Mentor/Challenge Program morphed into the Ascent program. It was at this time that I decided to move into the 5th grade classroom, (which is where I stayed for 15 years). Now the GT philosophy is shifting again and the Aspen School District's work towards being an IB accredited District shifts our thinking towards integration and inclusion once again.
What are the GT qualifications for being given an ALP?
In compliance with the CDE, students who score 95th%ile or above in three or more areas qualify. Typically, this equates to 3-5% of the population. The assessments may include:
- CogAT (screener 75%ile, full battery 95%ile; Verbal, Quantitative, Non-Verbal)
- STAR Reading/Math
- Exceeds Proficiency
- 5th Gr. 799-850
- 6th Gr. 790 - 850
- 7th Gr. 785 - 850
- 8th Gr. 794 - 850
- SIGS (GT identifier)
- TOMA (Test of Mathematical Ability)
- *class performance and observation
A screener, and possibly more comprehensive tests, will be given to all students in the fall of their 6th grade year and ALPS will be updated by Thanksgiving break. All new students in 5th, 7th and 8th grades will be tested as well. Those who qualify will be asked to participate in several in-depth surveys to help create a well rounded plan and their parents will be given a chance to offer input as well. This information will then be the basis of conversations with teachers about differentiation in main stream classes, specific class placement (where appropriate) and encouragement from the Mentor/Challenge coordinator to make connections with community partners that promote supplemental learning opportunities.