Velocity: A Program for Accelerated Urban Students

Course: Third Grade

Department: Early Childhood Education

Institution: Cleveland Metropolitan School District

Instructor: Chrystal Urbansky

Number & Level of Students Enrolled: 14 students, grades 3 & 5

Digital Tools/Technologies Used: Google Drive (Including: Forms, Docs, Sites, Sheets), Flipgrid, Chromebooks, Minecraft For Education, Sphero RVR, Sphero Bolt

Author Bio: Chrystal Urbansky is an Elementary School Teacher who works with Third-grade students of varying ability levels to learn, grow and find success in a supportive and inclusive learning environment. Chrystal believes that all students can learn and grow in an inclusive environment tailored to individual needs. All students deserve the opportunities and learning environments that will best fit their learning goals. She believes that hands-on, real-world experiences will shape each child’s education in positive and meaningful ways. She earned her Bachelors in Elementary Education from Kent State University and most recently completed a Masters of Educational Leadership from Concordia University, Chicago.

Synopsis

Diverse urban schools are losing their highest-achieving students to other districts, homeschooling, and online alternatives.  Gifted and accelerated students are not getting the challenges and opportunities needed to help them progress and grow in their current learning environments. An alternative solution to already-overwhelmed classrooms would be an outside opportunity that would combine accelerated learning and family engagement to promote the most meaningful learning opportunities for these students.  This case study will offer my experience with a specific program designed to address these difficulties and the growing concern that many talented children are not being challenged to their fullest potential.

Discussion

Urban schools frequently experience the exodus of their higher-achieving students for seemingly “better” options.  Gifted programs are lacking or non-existent in many schools, and acceleration and enrichment in overwhelmed classrooms are near impossible, even for the most experienced teacher. A simple conversation with any teacher in a diverse urban school can reveal stories of disappointment and heartbreak of times they have lost students with great potential due to lack of challenge, unresolved bullying, or repeated cases of disrupted learning environments.

If they do not leave, student growth sometimes stagnates.  Their growth plateaus and although these students may still be the highest achievers in a class, they have not progressed at the same rate. This evidence has been particularly prominent post-pandemic.  Teachers become frustrated and are unsure how to help these students continue to grow in a classroom environment where abilities can range from non-readers to students with multiple exceptionalities.

Opportunities for growth can be offered to high-achieving students and their families outside the traditional classroom environment.  The Velocity Enrichment Program can provide experiences that can broaden student learning in ways that can deepen prior knowledge, build character and confidence, and strengthen familial bonds. 

Recommendations

A program that can easily be implemented in any school by any educator will be ideal.  The program should be challenging, engaging, and accessible to Gifted learners and students with multiple exceptionalities. The program will include a family engagement component to help families to support and advocate for their student’s unique needs. With respect to Maslow’s Hierarchy, care for the entire family will ensure that basic needs are encouraged and supported to further bolster the growth of the exceptional learner. Ultimately this program will provide challenges and experiences that will increase student learning while giving them the social and emotional tools they need to navigate their diverse school environment.

Research shows that gifted students in urban districts have significantly lower growth than those in suburban areas (Kurt and Chenault, 2017). Urban students have a need for appropriate levels of challenging content, coupled with appreciation and emotional support.  The Velocity program is designed for the unique needs of diverse, gifted learners and could be the key to closing the urban versus suburban achievement gap.

Implementation

The initial implementation of the Velocity Enrichment Program will be piloted by educators, Chrystal Urbansky and Jordan Seigler. Seigler is a ten-year veteran classroom teacher with extensive technology-based classroom experience.  A 2018 winner of the Cleveland Metropolitan School District’s Excellence in teaching award, Seigler participates in many programs and panels for school and district improvement. She currently serves as Halle School of Inquiry’s Computer Technology instructor. The two will launch Velocity in November 2021 with a parent and student meeting to outline the program and its components. Parent meetings will continue monthly in order to update caregivers on the progression of their students. An integral component of this program, the parent meeting will provide assurance to caregivers that their exceptional child is receiving the additional support they need to be successful (VACEG, 2017).

The student selection process will use a comprehensive approach to identifying candidates for the program.  Following the example set by the Virginia Advisory Committee for the Education of the Gifted, we will take care to remove factors such as poverty and multiple exceptionalities, while considering circumstances that could have negatively impacted test data.  Using a more holistic approach and including classroom teaching observations, work samples and stakeholder recommendations will help to build diversity within the program (VACEG, (2017).

These meetings will additionally serve as planning meetings for family engagement opportunities as well as a brief check-in on the needs of individual children.

We created a parent survey that included questions to determine adverse childhood experiences, student exposure to enrichment activities, such as trips to museums or family activities, and parent observations of typical gifted characteristics.

We used a combination of typical gifted characteristic inventories used by large districts, as well as characteristics based on Dabrowski’s Theory of Positive Disintegration and Giftedness and Frasier’s Core Attributes (Mendalglio and Tillier, 2006). Frasier’s Core Attributes was of particular importance to us as it focused on recognizing the potential for giftedness in economically disadvantaged students.

During our initial parent meeting, parents rated students on a one to five scale (one being never, five being always). Overall, students were rated highly (four out of five) on original thought, sense of humor, making deep connections, grasping concepts quickly and easily, a deep need and sense of justice, intense passions and curiosity, and a large capacity for storing information. The lowest scores on the survey aligned with what teachers have seen in the classroom, and include communicating and managing emotions, being inventive and solving problems creatively, and demonstrating extraordinary talent in sports, dance, and art mediums. Parents also rated students highly on negative behaviors potentially related to giftedness, including avoiding risks, anxiety, and difficulty working in a group.

Parents self-identified adverse childhood experiences, which may be less accurate as parents may not want to self-report domestic issues. The data we received indicated that one hundred percent of students are economically disadvantaged, fifty percent have experienced abandonment, and twenty-five percent have experienced the death of a close family member. In addition, three students have diagnosed disabilities and two have a diagnosed mental illness.

Student growth will be charted using the U-STARS-PLUS TOPS folders.  This product allows for the systematic observation of student strengths, allowing the educators to better serve individual needs (Council for Exceptional Children, 2021).  Diverse learners do not consistently exhibit characteristics traditionally used to gauge gifted identification and using alternative methods will help to ensure that exceptional students needing the program will not be left out.

Each student session will include a warm-up activity such as a game or improvisational activity that allows students to practice with processing speed, including Set and 24. Next, students will learn about the Focus they will be practicing. The Focus is the social-emotional component of the program and can be anything from an executive functioning skill like planning or time-management to calming techniques to help manage emotions. Students will spend a few minutes learning about the Focus and demonstrating their understanding through role-play or discussion.

Student Challenges

Next, students will participate in a Challenge. Challenges are in one of three areas: STEM, Instant Challenges, and Improv. These three types of Challenges were selected for several reasons. First, we wanted students to have a variety of experiences, ones they could feel challenged by but also be successful in. Improv was selected to improve student communication and challenge their ability to think and write quickly. STEM challenges were selected to incorporate the major sciences and capitalize on student interests while challenging their inventive and problem-solving abilities. Instant Challenges were selected based on both our experience and success with Destination Imagination, as well as the ease of implementation. Instant challenges use simple items and need almost no preparation, and most come with a rubric to grade success, allowing students to experience competition and the inherent pressures within a safe space.

After students have completed the Challenge, they will participate in a Reflection. This gives students a chance to calm down and reflect on their Challenge and the Focus for the day. Students will discuss what went well, what they would change, or do differently, and how they will apply the Focus, and what they learned over the next week. Developing student metacognition is important both for improving their executive functioning skills and helping students manage their emotions.

The program will include a monthly family engagement field trip or activity.  Families will gather for local trips to museums, parks, libraries, concerts, and businesses to deepen learning experiences and broaden background knowledge.  This portion of the program will be grant-funded in order to provide transportation and admission costs for families. Although this particular implementation will require funding, the program is easily adaptable for little to no cost.  We plan to invite guest speakers, local parks programming, and artists to supplement the program as well.

Lastly, the program will be sustainable and attainable for any school and educator to implement.  The Velocity website will make all activities, links, and lessons accessible to any educator interested in using the program. The plan is to build a lasting experience that continues as long as there is a need.

References

Council for Exceptional Children, (2021). Retrieved from: https://exceptionalchildren.org/store/specialties/u-starsplus-tops-folder-guide

Frasier, Mary M. (1995). Core Attributes of Giftedness: A Foundation for recognizing the Gifted   Potential of Minority and Economically Disadvantaged Students.National Research Center on the Gifted and Talented, Storrs CT.

Medaglio, Sal and Tillier, William, (2006). Dabrowski’s Theory of Positive Disintegration               

and Giftedness: Overexcitability Research Findings.Journal for the Education of the Gifted. Vol. 30, No. 1, 2006, pp. 68–87.

Virgina Advisory Committee for the Education of the Gifted, (2017). Increasing Diversity in Gifted Education Programs in Virgina. Virgina Department of Education

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