Berryville GT program earns state recognition

Tuesday, January 30, 2018

The Berryville School District will be honored by the state this March for its outstanding gifted and talented (GT) program.

The Arkansas Governor’s Advisory Council for Gifted and Talented Education selected Berryville to receive an Honorable Mention for the Act 56 Outstanding Gifted Program for districts with more than 1,000 but less than 3,000 students.

Berryville will be recognized for this honor at the Arkansans for Gifted and Talented Education’s (AGATE) Spring Conference on Thursday, March 1, at the John Q. Hammons Convention Center in Rogers.

Larissa Allen, GT coordinator, said it was exciting to hear that the program had received an award.

“It was very exhilarating,” she said. “You do your work day in and day out and to be acknowledged for having a great program is exciting.”

Allen said she often characterizes the GT program as “learning outside the classroom.”

“That’s why we’re here. It’s to make sure the kids have exposure to everything,” she said. “It is learning outside the classroom because we offer so many opportunities.”

Allen said these opportunities have included trips to Memphis, Washington D.C., the Clinton Library in Little Rock, Chicago and tours of Arkansas colleges. If a student is in the Berryville GT program from third grade to 12th grade, they could potentially travel up to 8,000 miles across the country through the different trips and opportunities the program organizes, she said.

“We’re on a three-year rotating basis for our trips,” Allen said. “Our intermediate students take just one overnight trip in those three years, usually to the Museum of Discovery in Little Rock. Our sixth-graders go to Heifer Ranch every year. That’s a staple of ours.”

She continued, “Seventh to ninth grade are on a rotating basis. This year we’re going to Tulsa, and last year we went to Chicago. Tenth- to 12th-grade students will be going to D.C. and New York City this year.”

She said the program is not just about extra school trips, however.

“Everyone sees the extra trips but not the extra work,” Allen said. “It’s not just more work, it’s more challenging work.”

She said it’s also important to remember that being “gifted” does not mean a student is the best in their class.

“Gifted doesn’t mean that you are the best all-around kid,” she said. “We have some students who are unorganized or are underachievers. Those can be some of the traits of gifted kids. We have a different style of kids, and we have all kinds of kids just like any other classroom.”

Generally, Allen said students enter the GT program in third grade after the teachers administer creativity tests and student ability indexes, but students can be referred to the program at any point during their school careers.

“The GT program isn’t something students get into, it’s something they qualify for,” she said. “Teachers can refer students at any time.”

One of her previous students didn’t qualify until 11th grade, she said.

“I never knew his name going through school,” Allen said. “I tested him one-on-one, and I was blown away. He wanted to be in it because he was applying for Vanderbilt. He totally qualified.”

She continued, “He was a late bloomer. He didn’t try very hard in the lower grades, but something snapped into place. He took six Advanced Placement (AP) classes and scored a 5 in all of them in one year. He’s now at Vanderbilt studying engineering, and he wants to go to med school to be a neurologist.”

One interesting thing about the GT program, she said, is that it is self-funded.

“It’s state-mandated for every school in Arkansas,” Allen said. “So we do fundraisers and raise money to provide the extra opportunities for our students. The fundraisers are another great opportunity for students to go above and beyond in a different learning environment.”

The GT students at Berryville said they love getting to learn in new and exciting ways.

“I like getting to go on the educational field trips,” said Mia Gregson, “and getting to learn about new stuff.”

Olivia Dignan said she enjoys getting to learn in a setting outside of the classroom.

“I like it because you get to learn in a different environment,” she said, “and you get to learn about stuff you don’t in your other classrooms. It’s fun.”

“I like getting out of class to do some thinking out-of-the-box work,” Luke Dignan said.

Daniel Roque said he enjoys how the GT students get to work on projects and go on field trips after completing them.

Hank Birchfield and Peyton Ballard agreed, saying they get to learn about a lot of topics that aren’t covered in their other classrooms.

“One of my favorite field trips was to the Clinton Library,” Ballard said. “That was a cool one.”

Allen said she never expected to be the GT teacher but wouldn’t have it any other way now.

“I taught second grade for 10 years and thought I would never do anything else,” she said. “I love the GT program. We’re fortunate in that we get to do a lot of extra stuff with our students.”

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