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The Council for Exceptional Children Takes a Look at the Gatton Academy

The Council for Exceptional Children Takes a Look at the Gatton Academy

The Carol Martin Gatton Academy of Mathematics and Science in Kentucky is a state residential public school for high school juniors and seniors with an interest in a STEM career and who are advanced learners. The academy, located in Bowling Green, Ky. opened five years ago with 126 students and  has a 100 percent graduation and college bound rate. This year the academy ranked America's best public school in Newsweek's 2012 ranking of the top 1,000.

Julia Link Roberts, executive director of the Gatton Academy and vice president of the CEC Division, The Association for the Gifted (TAG), discusses the academy and issues affecting gifted and talented education.

CEC Today: Congratulations! The Gatton Academy was just named the best public high school in the country by Newsweek

Roberts: I advocated for 10 years for what has become the Carol Martin Gatton Academy of Mathematics and Science in Kentucky before it opened its doors. The day Newsweek recognized the Gatton Academy as the number one public high school in the country was a very happy day.

CEC Today: Can you tell us a little about your program and its impact on students?

Roberts: The Gatton Academy is a state residential school for high school juniors and seniors with an interest in a STEM career and who are advanced learners. Students graduate with a minimum of 60 college credits and a high school diploma. It is important that the Gatton Academy represent the state; thus far 107 of Kentucky's 120 counties have had a student at the Gatton Academy during its five-year history.

CEC Today: What makes your program stand out among other programs in the United States?

Roberts: Gatton Academy students are engaging in research—with a few presenting research at state and national conferences and a few publishing research papers. Perhaps, best of all, they are engaged in ongoing learning with peers who are equally interested in learning.

CEC Today: What do you think has been the greatest impact of the program? 

Roberts: I want the greatest impact to be an increased interest in academic excellence across Kentucky and beyond. The Gatton Academy has demonstrated that advanced students can excel academically when given the opportunities to do so or when the learning ceiling is removed.

CEC Today: Educators love nothing more than bragging about their students!  Tell us about a couple of students who have excelled in your program.

Roberts: There are so many students to highlight but I will choose two.

One of these students comes from a family background that financially could not have supported the opportunities offered by the Gatton Academy. He has excelled in so many ways. He has done well academically as he has pursued his interest in physics. He has been involved with research during the academic year as well as in the summers. He was recognized nationally for his undergraduate research and is on his way to pursue a Ph.D. at Dartmouth University.

Another student in the first class at the Gatton Academy graduated at 17, and remember that graduating from high school means the students have earned a minimum of 60 hours of college credit. She completed college in another year and moved on to law school. She will complete law school at 22 years old, excelling at every step of the way. She has just completed an internship in patent law—a wonderful way to incorporate the science background.

CEC Today: Although there are over three million students with gifts and talents throughout the nation, education policy conversations seem to only focus on reaching proficiency. From your experience, what has the impact been on students with gifts and talents?

Roberts: The focus on proficiency or grade-level learning has been detrimental to the learning of so many children and young people across the United States. When teachers feel pressured to have every child meet proficiency standards, they fail to recognize that proficiency is no goal at all for children who have reached proficiency or are beyond that point. Instead, the goal for all children must be to make continuous progress or to learn on an ongoing basis. Schools need to be focused on the development of talent.

CEC Today: Recent data from the U.S Department of Education's Office of Civil Rights shows that students from minority backgrounds are underrepresented in gifted and talented programs. How has your work and/or your program addressed this issue?

Roberts: Talent development must focus on children of all socio-economic levels and all minority groups. Educators need to read the report Mind the (Other) Gap which dramatically points out that the children in the gap groups are not reaching the advanced levels of achievement in significant numbers. Our schools across the country must remove the learning ceiling for all children. 

The Center for Gifted Studies has partnered with the Warren County, Ky. Schools in a research project called the Gifted Education in Mathematics and Science (GEMS) Project. Children in grades 3­–6 are engaged in problem-based science and math. These children include twice-exceptional learners, English language learners, and those from various socio-economic and minority backgrounds – all of whom are thriving and learning in this engaging learning opportunity.

CEC Today: There are many myths associated with students with gifts and talents, what do you view as the most common misconception?

Roberts: The most comm

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