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Shining a light on Janesville’s Talented and Gifted 12-21-2021
Students in lynn Little's fifth grade challenge program class at Roosevelt Elementary work on building a Rube Goldberg machine out of LEGO.
Janesville School District’s Talented and Gifted Program has been around since the 1970s. Yet Stacy Petersen likes to call it the “hidden gem” of Janesville.
“We want people to know it’s available, if this is what your child needs,” Petersen said, who is the TAG Program coordinator and principal at Roosevelt Elementary. “It’s a great programming option that is available in the public school system that you can access.”
Petersen spoke to the Janesville School Board earlier this month about the different opportunities in the TAG program, which is intended to meet the individual social, emotional and academic needs of students.
In 1987, the Wisconsin State Legislature added a state standard that states, “each School District Board shall provide access to an appropriate program for pupils identified as gifted and talented.“
Every board must identify the students in the following categories: artistic, creative, leadership, academic and intellectual.
“We had already been, in Janesville, identifying kids and programming for insurance,” Petersen said. “Once the standard came in place that mandated boards to do that, and we already had a system. We have fine-tuned and changed things over the years.”
Challenge (Magnet) Program
In 1983, the Challenge (Magnet) program started at Harrison Elementary for both fourth and fifth grade. The program has moved to different schools over the years, and third grade was added in 2012.
In order to qualify for the Challenge program, a student has to be identified as intellectually gifted in one of the categories above. All students in second and fifth grade are screened using the Cognitive Abilities Test (CogAT) tool.
“That is a commonly used test for finding out (students’) gifts, talents and programming options,” Petersen said. “It tests multiple areas, too. It’s not just academic focused. It also helps us know and identify kids that may not test well. That sense of what they’re capable of, even if it’s not always demonstrated very traditionally.”
As of right now, there are a total of 80 students in the Challenge program at the elementary level and 125 middle school students at Edison and Franklin. There is one third-grade class and two fourth-grade and two fifth-grade classes. These classes are held at Roosevelt and Washington, depending on enrollment. The Challenges program currently has students from third to eighth grade.
“What we really tried to do is (group students) with their like-minded peers,” Petersen explained. “It’s an accelerated program. They move a grade level up and sometimes beyond a bit. It’s at least a grade level ahead of their peers to keep pace with their academic needs.”
Petersen likes to compare it to special education services because it meets the specific needs of students to advance academically.
Once a student is deemed gifted, an invitation is sent to the student’s family to try Challenges session. The main concern for most parents is how well their child transitions to that from a traditional classroom setting.
“It’s a parental choice,” Petersen said. “We do go through what the program is and we go through how we build a lot of teamwork, especially into our third grade group. We spend a lot of time at the beginning of third grade doing activities, teamwork, and team building skills so they bond.”
The Janesville School District has surveyed previous TAG program students and a majority of those who have responded say they met some of their closest friends in TAG and Challenge classes.
However, Petersen said there have been instances where a student takes a Challenge class and soon realizes it’s not a match for them. In those cases, the student can return to their regular school environment.
“We don’t want to force it,” Petersen said.
Each school building in the Janesville School District has at least two TAG Advocates. The advocates are full-time teachers appointed by a principal who help identify students for the program and assist the development of their abilities.
“Kids are identified intellectually to come into the Challenge program, but they’re identified in other areas too,” Petersen said. “A lot of needs are met right in the classroom with the support of advocates. That’s wide reaching, and the Challenge program is a real specific intellectual programming need for the population.”
The biggest worry for the district is making sure all students have their needs identified so the district can enrich their learning experiences.