The Free Press, Mankato, MN

Local News

April 21, 2012

Gifted: Parents group says Mankato's gifted and talented students are being under-served

MANKATO — Derek Engen was bored in his sixth-grade math class last fall. He went from being a student who loved school, who excelled on the Math Masters team, who scored well on tests, to a kid his mother described as “completely miserable.”

“He was not being challenged,” said Jean Willaert of North Mankato. “He was drawing fish with all the scales on them on his math sheets.”

Due to what Willaert and numerous other parents describe as a flaw in the system, Derek was not placed in the gifted and talented math class at Garfield Elementary School, which is where both of them thought he belonged.

Derek scored above the 95th percentile on the Northwest Evaluation Association test, Willaert said. But he scored a couple of percentage points too low on the Cognitive Abilities Test, she said, which is an additional factor in determining which students have the aptitude for the accelerated math track that starts in sixth grade.

“He was coming home daily and saying, ‘I’m bored. I hate math. I don’t want to go there anymore,’” Willaert said.

She called a meeting with his teacher, the Mankato Area Public Schools’ halftime gifted coordinator, Sarah Scott-Cipos, and the district math specialist, Jerry Burkhart, among others, telling them she was not just going to let her son languish at his desk. All were eager to help solve the problem, she said.

As a result, along with as an endorsement from Derek’s previous principal at Monroe Elementary School, Allen Lawrence, further assessment was done, and he was put in the gifted and talented math class with Burkhart, where Willaert says he’s thriving.

“But I know (my son) is not alone,” she said. “He shouldn’t get those services just because his mom is assertive. What about the child’s mom who isn’t, and their child misses out because of it?”

Willaert said Scott-Cipos, Burkhart, Supt. Sheri Allen and other staff have been supportive and communicative.

But she does not believe enough resources are being put into identifying gifted and talented students, as well as the curriculum available to them when they are identified. She said the communication to parents about the program also is a big problem.

Willaert and a group of other concerned parents started meeting in January to advocate for increased gifted and talented funding and services.

They say the district has made the gifted and talented program a low priority, and they hope to change that.

“We have a full-time volunteer coordinator for the district? But we only have a part-time gifted and talented coordinator? Really? That, to me, speaks volumes about our priorities,” she said. “These are our future doctors and engineers, and we need to nurture them.”

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