Being gifted and talented isn't always easy.
A sense of isolation can come with great intelligence and ability, especially for elementary, middle and high school students looking to navigate the tricky social world of public school. Finding peers with similar interests and abilities can be tough. Discovering a sense of belonging and community can be a challenge.
For students from across the Cherry Creek School District taking part in the Inside/Out program this summer, that process is a lot easier. For two weeks this month, gifted and high-potential learners have the opportunity to take part in specialized classes centered at Laredo Middle School in Aurora. The classes range in focus from building robots to learning to play the ukulele; they're designed to immerse students in coursework that's not necessarily available during the regular school year.
Indeed, courses with titles like "How To Write a Novel," "STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) Robotics 101" and "Lego Storyboard" offer students instruction on a higher level. More importantly, they connect students from across the community through a sense of shared interests and abilities.
"Our students have the chance to work with their peers," said Ian Lafarge, administrator of the Inside/Out program. "It's a chance for them to push deeper, to sign up for the classes they want to take … They work with teachers from all over the district – a broad range of writers, scientists, mathematicians and artists."
The end result of the program is beneficial for students, teachers and administrators alike. Students are recommended by teachers at their home schools, and the Inside/Out classes offer a way to gauge individual strengths in any specific subject. This can help refine an academic roadmap for a student that extends beyond the two weeks of the Inside Out program.
"One of our inclusive excellence goals is really to focus on creating better proportionality in the gifted and talented identification process," said CCSD Executive Director of Curriculum and Instruction Floyd Cobb. "If a classroom teacher feels that a student has gifted potential, this is a program for which they can be recommended. It gives teachers an opportunity to watch a student go in-depth with a topic that they care about greatly."
The process can be much more revealing and valuable than a simple test, Cobb added. During Inside/Out sessions held during summer break, as well as Fall Break and Spring Break, students and teachers alike get a chance to carve out a more specified and enriching academic pathway.
That much was clear on a warm, clear day in mid-June, as students at Laredo built robots, constructed miniature catapults and worked with paint and canvas in classrooms. Though the group was much smaller than Laredo's student population during the regular school year, the building hummed with activity and life. A school nurse was on duty, as were security guards and other personnel.
"Inside/Out runs like a regular academic program," Lafarge said. "It should look like a regular school day."
In the "Medieval Mechanical Mayhem" class, Jake Solomon worked in a group of three to construct trebuchets, onagers and ballistas – siege engines used in battle throughout the ancient and medieval world. Solomon, a fifth-grader from Polton Elementary, constructed miniature versions of the machines with wood, rubber bands and other materials. A student who's taken part in several Inside Out programs in the past, Solomon spoke about the value of attending the classes.
"I love engineering," he said, adding that he wanted to pursue the subject through middle school, high school, college and beyond. He also spoke of the value of working with the other students involved in the program. "I like that these kids enjoy what they're doing, that they're advanced."