These teachers will learn as a cohort during an 18-month period. Instruction will be delivered by Elon Associate Professor Stephen Byrd and Adjunct Professor Emerita Glenda Crawford. Most of the class sessions will be taught at Morris Grove Elementary School in Chapel Hill so the participating teachers can minimize their travel to the Elon campus.
Because 30 percent of Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools students are identified as AIG, gifted education is one of the district’s primary areas of focus. Few, if any, public school districts in the state have such a high percentage of identified gifted students. Administrators and the school board are always seeking strategies to reach more of these students in their classrooms, across the grade levels. As the district's Gifted Education website states, “Our mission is to promote habits of mind that grow creative problem solvers, passionate leaders, and lifetime learners - Growing Greatness.”
In the current district AIG Plan (2016-2019), one of the key goals is to place “AIG students in general education classrooms with teachers who have earned an AIG add-on license from an Institute of Higher Education (IHE) or who have met the LEA’s professional development requirements for that position.” The impact of Project LAUNCH will do just that — increase the number of AIG-licensed teachers by 20, with a much wider impact than in their own classrooms, through the sharing of information in Professional Learning Communities and other site- and district-based opportunities.
Several high school teachers are part of the LAUNCH cohort, including English teacher Pierre Lourens at Carrboro High. “I am excited about the AIG partnership between Elon and CHCCS because it provides me the chance to pursue mastery of instructional approaches and curriculum design. In my role as an English teacher, I encourage my students to think of “mastery” of our standards as an endless and active pursuit rather than a single achievable goal. To that end, I know that I can always grow, and I look forward to adding to my skillset - a skillset which benefits all students.”
Lourens added that he was encouraged by the first reading assignment because it emphasized how much the broader use of strategies for AIG instruction will raise the bar for all students.
Board Chair Rani Dasi said, “CHCCS is focused on optimizing resources to address the needs of all of our students. While the state does not provide adequate resources to serve our district's gifted population, we are pursuing a partnership with Elon to certify local teachers in gifted instruction. We are fortunate to have professionals on staff who are willing to put in the time and effort toward this initiative. The project also highlights the importance of community partnerships, as Elon is playing an important role in providing training and support for our teaching community."
The 20 teachers met in late October for an orientation, with the first official class and coursework began Feb. 6. In the recent welcome letter sent to teachers, the Elon team wrote, “Our vision of the program is of a vibrant, challenging education community that fulfills the experienced teachers' desire to explore, to grow, and to actively engage in their love of teaching and learning.”
The first of four courses is “Curriculum and Instructional Design in Gifted Education.” Other courses will include “Social/Emotional Needs of Gifted Students” and a final course called “Consultation and Collaboration” that will involve an internship designing, administering, and evaluating a summer learning enrichment experience for our students. The courses will be taught integrating face-to-face sessions at Morris Grove, online coursework, and some sessions on Elon's campus.
Kelly Fox, a social studies teacher at Phillips Middle School, reflected pure excitement as she talked about this new learning experience. After 14 years as a classroom teacher, and in her third year at CHCCS, Fox noted that the range of giftedness she observes in her sixth-grade classes is unlike any other level of exceptionality she has experienced as a teacher. “I’m excited for this opportunity to better meet the needs of all our children,” she said. “I already differentiate all of the time, but I look forward to having a new, expanded toolbox.”
The operative word for all the partners seems to be “excited.” Elon's Byrd wrote to participants, “We are excited that you are taking this next, important step in your professional career. Really, it is a step of leadership. We look forward to partnering with you to promote your future success.”