AIG program challenges students
Like most things in life, education is not one size fits all. Haywood County Schools’ Academically or Intellectually Gifted (AIG) program offers classes and activities to meet the needs of the county’s advanced students.
“Our AIG program is developing ways to educate our students based on their different academic interests,” said Jill Barker, Haywood County Schools AIG director. “The curriculum is meant to tap into their strengths and show them how to make the most of their gifts.”
The state of North Carolina mandates that each school district offer an AIG program, but has no established guidelines to identify gifted students. It is up to each school district to identify AIG students and create AIG curriculum.
Haywood County Schools begins the process of identifying AIG students as early as kindergarten, although most are not selected for the program until second grade or later.
Students are considered for the AIG program based on EOG scores, teacher referrals and parent referrals. Potential candidates then take the CogAT test, which measures cognitive abilities and learning styles. Students can qualify for the AIG program in reading or math.
“The AIG program is designed to give opportunities to as many students as possible,” said Barker. “The state requires that our gifted students, like exceptional children, need differentiated programs to help them be successful in school.”
She explained that the term giftedness can refer to either IQ or achievement or both. Some students may be categorized as “twice exceptional” meaning that, while they may excel at math or science, they also have a learning disability.
A student’s delay in one subject area does not prevent inclusion in the AIG program, if he or she is gifted in another area.
There are more than 1,000 students in Haywood County Schools who have been identified as AIG, about 14 percent of the total student population.
The way AIG students are served has drastically changed over the past several years and has become a more in-depth and involved program that emphasizes hands-on and experiential learning.
Haywood County Schools employs five elementary school AIG specialists. Each AIG specialist serves one grade K-1 through 5th. The specialists pull their students from class once a week for nearly three hours.
Since each specialist is assigned a single grade at each school, she is able to focus on grade-specific skills, Barker explained.
The AIG classes focus on integrated units that combine Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM), reading and writing. Students complete enrichment projects that are based on subjects they are studying in their regular classroom.
Brittany Pless, fifth grade AIG specialist, is currently teaching a coding and computer programming unit that combines STEM subjects with 21st century skills.
Students used a coding programmer app on classroom iPads to develop maze-like courses for Lego EV3 robots to navigate. Students discovered through reasoning, calculations, and trial and error how to make their robot follow the intended course.
Pless plans to extend the unit by adding touch and color sensors to the robots to introduce students to conditionals and more complex coding language.
Through the coding and computer programming unit, students have also studied force and motion, including Newton's Laws of Motion; variables, exponents, equations, and function tables; and even completed a research project on famous computer programmers.
Pless aims to integrate fifth-grade curriculum into her AIG projects while also increasing students' knowledge of potential careers.
“My students have such complex ideas and questions, and they are eager to learn new ideas, try experiments, and generate new products,” Pless said. “Our AIG class allows each student to discover an area of interest and thrive.”
When students reach middle school and high school, the AIG program is based on students’ self-selection. Students can choose to push themselves in the middle school AIG encore class or enroll in high school honors and Advanced Placement (AP) courses.
Recently, Haywood County Schools started offering joint AP classes for students from Pisgah and Tuscola high schools at Haywood Community College. This partnership has allowed the county to offer more AP classes and give students from each high school the opportunity to take a variety of courses that were not previously offered.
Barker explained the AIG program’s goals are to provide opportunities, keep talented students engaged in school and give students a chance to be around peers with common interests.
“One of the greatest benefits of the AIG program is that it gives students the opportunity to work on their own level and with like peers,” Barker said. “The open-ended questions and hands-on projects challenge them in ways they are not used to.”
State funding for the AIG program is based on total enrollment for the entire district. This amount rarely covers all of the expenses that go along with teaching AIG.
Dr. Doris Hammett, retired pediatrician and school advocate, donated nearly $7,000 this year to the Haywood County Schools Foundation for the county’s AIG program.
Barker explained that AIG specialists make the same salary as other teachers, yet are required to complete four master-level courses to obtain their certification. Those four courses are a $3,000 investment that many teachers do not have.
Thanks to Dr. Hammett’s donation, Barker is able to cover the cost for interested teachers to become AIG certified.
“Without Dr. Hammett’s donation, I wouldn’t be able to recruit these teachers to get their AIG certifications,” Barker said. “Gifted children are a special group of students, and require teachers with patience and passion.”
For more information about Haywood County Schools’ AIG program, contact Jill Barker at 828-456-2400 or your child’s school.
For more information about making a tax-deductible donation to the Haywood County Schools Foundation, contact Jenny Wood Valliere at 828-456-2400. Donations can be made to specific schools, causes, or programs such as AIG. Contributions may take the form of a cash gift, appreciated securities or real estate, life insurance, charitable remainder, non-profit organization assets, memorials, estate gifts or wills and bequests, or other real or personal property.