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Gifted students shine when mined

High-potential students in Hartford, Connecticut show real promise when presented with educational opportunities at a recently opened academy.

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Anaisja Henry pops open a laptop, the white beads in her hair quietly clicking as she settles into her desk to work on a fourth-grade project. The theme: making a difference – inspired by a play the teacher took the class to see.

An aspiring veterinarian, Anaisja is focusing on saving animals from cruelty – incorporating facts, photos, and even original poems from the animals' perspectives: "Please help us and love us and protect us too. Please train us and teach us the things we must do...."

Special field trips and self-motivated work are typical here at The Dr. Joseph S. Renzulli Gifted and Talented Academy – but not so common in many schools across the country, especially in high-poverty districts such as Hartford's.

"In a lot of circumstances, high-potential students don't manifest their gifts unless they've been given the opportunity to develop them," says head teacher Ruth Lyons.

To provide such opportunity, the public academy opened in 2009 and serves 60 children in Grades 4 through 7 (by 2016, it should grow to 550 K-12 students). Like those in the district, the students are almost all black or Hispanic and from low-income families.

Students are selected not based on IQ tests – those are expensive to administer and many families aren't aware of them – but on a "talent pool" model. Hundreds of students who score well enough on Connecticut state tests are invited to apply, and parents and teachers can also nominate students based on their creativity and motivation to learn. Occasionally a student even nominates himself.

The curriculum is based on the Schoolwide Enrichment Model (SEM) developed by Joseph Renzulli and Sally Reis at the University of Connecticut in Storrs. Used to some degree at more than 2,500 schools around the country, it's designed to expose students to a range of challenging activities and then offer more advanced work based on their specific interests, learning styles, and skills.

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