PEYTON, Colo. – Amid a warm week in July, gifted students in the Falcon area of El Paso County experienced a unique summer break – it put them, briefly, back in school.
During Falcon School District 49’s first Gifted and Talented Institute, July 8-12, roughly 130 students from across the district gathered at Vista Ridge High School in Colorado Springs.
While first through 12th graders met with peers who also boast intellectual gifts, who understand their desire to develop their unique talents and build their passions, they shared a period of project-based learning that deviated from typical classroom curricula.
“It’s a little more relaxed here,” said Tresha DiPasquale, Sand Creek Zone gifted and talented program coordinator. “We’re focusing on things we enjoy and the kids say they like to do, too – combining all ages, from all our schools.”
DiPasquale had teamed with Paula Hinson, Falcon Zone gifted and talented program coordinator, to propose and plan the week’s activities. Hinson says they invested more than 1,000 hours this summer toward the event.
“We wanted to reach as many kids as we could. … I’d be up all night long,” said Hinson, explaining intense periods of collaboration that included text messages well beyond midnight. They constantly registered and explored new ideas.
Numerous teachers in District 49 helped them offer nearly a dozen projects, including how to solve scrambled Rubik’s cubes, uncover objects using a metal detector and act for drama. Some children chose to create characters, write a story and learn how to publish it.
“Who can remember the recipe for the root beer?” said Hinson, standing in a classroom marked as “edible science” during the institute’s last day. Young voices, students from elementary and middle schools, shouted: sugar, yeast, cold water and root beer extract.
Three days earlier, the class separated into groups to formulate two-liter bottles of root beer. The resulting mixtures had to rest, before the students could taste it, as well as make ice cream for root beer floats.
“But what was the chemical reaction that made the root beer?” said Hinson.
“The yeast mixes with the sugar and that starts carbonating the root beer,” said 10-year-old Payton Hartley, who’ll start middle school next month. Hinson continued to quiz the kids about their week’s activities, which started with the categories of taste.
As dabs of sugar water, tonic water, salt water and grapefruit juice touched their tongues at four points, the students identified and described sweet, bitter, salty and sour. They dived into descriptive writing, defining their classroom-crafted taffy as sweet, bubbly, greasy, shiny, flexible.
“We’ve talked about science, language arts, math and measurements, ratios, geographically where things come from,” said DiPasquale of edible science. “We have time in the summer to do something different… not tied to the standards.
“We’re getting the district’s gifted kids into classrooms this summer so they can spend time with their peers,” she said. “They need that. They need the ability to connect more with kids like them.”
DiPasquale said many of the participating students are considered “twice exceptional,” intellectually gifted children who also have a learning disability.
“We couldn’t have done this without the help of a lot of people,” said Hinson, who’s now calling it a “first annual” event. She says feedback has been highly supportive of the district hosting a Gifted and Talented Institute every summer.