July 22, 2008

New Students Challenged at Staley

By Americus Times Recorder, Ga.

Jul. 22---- -- When the doors open for the 2008-2009 school term, students and parents of the Sumter County School System will be introduced to a new but old program at Staley Middle School located on North Lee Street.

Keeping in line with her promise to promote and focus on student achievement, Victoria Harris, principal, along with her administrators and staff have revamped the Academy at Staley.

In the past, the Academy was known as a space for gifted students -- those students who were capable of doing work beyond their grade level. Because the state of Georgia has raised the bar in regard to the education of children, schools are finding ways to meet and keep up with these goals. And one way Staley has chosen to do this is by reformatting the Academy to cater to those talented, gifted and higher achievers.

Now being called the Magnet Academy for High Achievers, the goal of the program is to provide an exemplary learning center that not only encourages, but expects students and staff to actively discover, integrate and apply knowledge in a dynamic environment with an emphasis on self-civic-pride and responsibility while tapping into the students' individual interest areas and learning styles.

"We are excited about the Magnet Academy and the direction it is taking. The Academy was revamped in hopes that it would be more challenging -- meeting the demands and needs of our high achievers," said Harris, adding while still meeting and exceeding the Georgia Performance Standards (GPS).

Harris stated that the major difference between the academies is the online curriculum being used, Renzulli. The Renzulli Learning System is a Web-based learning coach that allows teachers to use differentiated strategies and activities in the classroom by creating individualized assessments of each child's interests and preferred methods of engagement learning. It delivers customized learning experiences to help them think and learn based on their personal strengths.

"The Magnet Academy will continue to offer rigorous curriculum designed to meet the needs of the students with high academic abilities but will use alternate modes of instruction that fit the particular learning styles and interests of those students," continued Harris.

Leading the Magnet Academy will be a group of three teachers: Jennifer Peek, the lead/math teacher; Tiffany Gilbert, the social studies teacher; and David Edmiston, the science teacher. Right now, around 115 students qualify for the program and the possibility of adding a fourth teacher is in progress to meet the English/language arts standards.

According to Peek, the new academy is being welcomed with enthusiasm.

"The planning that the administration has done has been great in helping to get the program going and moving forward. We are looking for great things to come out of it," she said.

There will be one class for seventh graders, one class for eighth graders and two classes devoted to the incoming sixth graders.

"We are really excited about our sixth graders because 53 of the incoming class are already meeting the challenge," said assistant Principal Stacy Mack.

"These students are coming to Staley speaking loudly because they were able to meet the required score of 825 and the other academic standards set forth for the program," added Peek.

The requirements that students must meet to be considered for enrollment into the program are:

--All students must complete an application packet with the required signatures.

--Recommendations from all core subject area teachers.

--Students must score a minimum of 825 in two or more areas in math, English/language arts and reading on the CRCT (Criterion-Referenced Competency Tests) from the previous school year.

--Previous years' grades with an overall 80 average for each core area subject.

--Gifted students will automatically qualify for the program.

--Applications must be renewed each year.

Outside of these basic requirements, students must also participate in at least one extracurricular activity (clubs and organizations) at Staley. Athletic participation does not qualify. Parent and student participation in monthly I-Care activities is required and parent participation in school activities and experiences for at least 10 hours.

"This is a wonderful opportunity ... a stepping stone. It's taking what is usually required of them a step further by designing challenging projects, engaging in community service, organizing and maintaining an electronic portfolio and even having a summer reading list. These are not the typical activities that are seen in middle grades. It is laying the groundwork for bigger and better things," said Peek.

Edmiston added the program offers elements that are preparing students for college in middle grades. "This is a great asset," he said.

One of the elements that the teachers are looking forward to working with is the electronic portfolio. The electronic portfolio will serve to enhance computer and technology skills. The students and teachers will gain experience by creating, selecting, organizing, editing and evaluating the portfolios.

"Each student will have a computer to work with ... tracking their work and lessons. I think it is something they will enjoy. It will give them a sense of accomplishment and empowerment by being able to display and share their portfolios with teachers and their classmates," said Harris.

According to Mack, the Magnet Academy incorporated with Renzulli will offer students hands-on experience that will tap into their strengths and build into their talents.

"This will help them soar. It's a new and exciting experience that will take instruction beyond the classroom. Students will experience field trips and virtual learning and learn how to relate what they have studied in the classroom with real life experiences. How exciting is that," said Mack.

For more information about the Magnet Academy for High Achievers at Staley, call 924-3168 and to learn more about the Renzulli Learning System, visit www.renzullilearning.com.


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