Daily Progress, Jacksonville, TX

August 15, 2013

Teaching Talent: Educators aim to expand exceptional programs, promote community awareness

Amy Brocato Pearson
Jacksonville Daily Progress

JACKSONVILLE — Jacksonville Middle School was awash in "new" on Wednesday.

New JISD teachers congregated for workshops and orientation events.

Hallways with freshly polished floors smelled like new chalk. The library smelled like new books.

And two staff members with new positions had a fresh, bright outlook for the year.

East Side Middle School Principal Jodi Alderete was promoted from her six-year post as assistant principal and Angie Stinson joins JISD as the GT (Gifted/Talented) Coordinator and ALC (Applied Learning Community) Coordinator, programs which JISDā€ˆPublic Information Officer Marc McCloud hopes will grow and expand this year.

"The year is going great," Alderete said. "It's exciting meeting the new teachers and I'm looking forward to the returning teachers coming back. I'm ready to get going!"

Even though classes haven't even started, Alderete, whose campus at East Side serves approximately 650 pre-kindergarten through fourth grade students, has big plans in the works.

"I have several goals for this year," she said. "The ALC program is increasing in size and I want to see it expand further. We were fortunate enough to receive a distinction from the TEA (Texas Education Agency) for our test scores and I want to build on that. Anything to increase student success."

As for her part, Stinson is poised to expand both the Gifted-Talented Program and the Applied Learning Community while she increases awareness of both programs in the schools and in the community at large.

The GT program is open to all students in first through twelfth grades.

Students must be referred by a parent or teacher or other staff member and undergo an application process that includes taking a test and submitting a portfolio of their work for a committee to review.

The program, Stinson stresses, is something all students can benefit from.

"GT students come from all walks of life," she emphasized. "They are very diverse, from all grade levels, from special ed, from general ed, with different strengths and talents."

A student need not excel in all areas to be considered for GT, she said.

"They might have a strength in one area, like art or math," Stinson explained. "All students have the opportunity to become part of the program if they meet eligibility."

At the elementary level, GT students receive accelerated lessons in all content areas. As they get older - in middle and high school - they are placed in AP or Honors classes depending on their strengths. First and second grade GT students stay on their home campus for instruction.

Third and fourth graders at Fred Douglass Elementary go to Joe Wright Elementary for GT classes while West Side Elementary students travel to East Side for their meetings.

Stinson also teaches third and fourth grade GT classes two days a week.

"GT is a big deal to these students," Stinson said. "It gives them a chance to explore their creativity and expand their knowledge and be around students with similar learning styles. All should have high expectations and these classes push their expectations even higher."

Another program designed to push students creatively and intellectually is the ALC, or Applied Learning Community.

In its third year at JISD, the ALC is designed around problem-based learning, Alderete said. Problem - or project - based learning is when students learn through the experience of problem solving.

"Students have a voice and a choice in what they learn," Stinson said. "Students are asking the questions and then answering their own questions. Teachers serve as the facilitators to guide the learning experience."

The ALC is open to students in first through twelfth grades, and there are currently waiting lists for some of the grade levels.

The concept brings real-world experiences into the classrooms so students can see how what they're learning prepares them for careers and college experiences.

"It gives them 21st-century skills," Stinson said.

The community is a huge part of the ALC program, according to Stinson.

"We like to bring in speakers and have students work with members of the community to gain knowledge and experience," she said.

Stinson, formerly of the University of Texas at Tyler's Innovation Academy, facilitated a project there where students created a community walk, partnering with the Chamber of Commerce to create a brochure to share the community history, using math skills to measure the walk and working with the mayor and Chamber of Commerce president to learn more about the local economy and how their project would impact the community.

"If students have a vested interest in what they're learning, they're more engaged," Stinson said.

The ALC program requires an application process as well, plus a commitment by parents to at least 10 volunteer hours in the school community.

Both the GT and the ALC programs are set up so students - and teachers - have the opportunity to work in teams and help each other to further facilitate learning.

Students new to the district as of Jan. 1, 2013 can still apply for the GT program this year. There is a waiting list for many of the ALC classes, but there are still openings in kindergarten, first and third grades.

Parents should contact their home campus for more information about either of these programs.