Summer vacation is just beginning, but the staff at Chesterbrook Elementary School in McLean is already thinking ahead to the 2007-08 school year. One new development that has the administration and the staff particularly excited is that next year will mark the first time that Chesterbrook will operate its own school-based Gifted and Talented (GT) Center. Chesterbrook submitted the application to open its own center last year, and was officially granted permission this past spring.
The decision to apply was based on a number of reasons. Under the current system, many GT students at Chesterbrook are bused to the GT Center at neighboring Haycock Elementary School. However in recent years, the Haycock GT Center has been suffering from a growing overcrowding problem, as more and more GT students are being bused in from both Chesterbrook Elementary School and Kent Gardens Elementary School. Since Kent Gardens Elementary School has its own French Immersion language program and is therefore precluded from opening a school-based GT Center, the Chesterbrook administration and parents felt that some of the overcrowding at Haycock could be alleviated by opening a school-based GT Center at Chesterbrook. In addition, many parents feel strongly that a child should not have to make the choice between GT education and remaining with their friends at their neighborhood elementary school.
“Our parents came to us and said they would like us to offer a program of Level 4 services so their child would not have to make the choice to go to another school,” said Bob Fuqua, principal of Chesterbrook Elementary School. “Traditionally, we have had a very large number of people decide to go to the GT Center, so that is 100 or so students at Haycock that could potentially be here.”
Fuqua emphasized that although Chesterbrook Elementary School and Haycock Elementary School have a very congenial relationship, but said it is only natural for parents to want to keep their children enrolled in their local elementary school for the sake of friendships and routine.
“We have an alliance with Haycock and we do share a lot, but right now, this was a good move for us,” said Fuqua.
GIFTED AND TALENTED education is offered to elementary school students in four different tiers of service. Level 1 services provide students with limited GT learning exercises within their regular curriculum, while Level 2 services provide a classroom oriented GT curriculum. Students receiving Level 3 services are pulled out of particular classes to participate in specific GT curriculum segments, and students participating in Level 4 services attend a GT Center full-time.
With a new school-based GT Center opening up this fall, Chesterbrook students admitted into the Level 4 GT services program will have a choice — they can either be bused to the GT Center at Haycock, or they can attend the new GT Center at Chesterbrook.
“With the Level 4 students, some of them will go to Haycock and some of them will stay here,” said Naomi Sweet, the Gifted and Talented Resource Teacher at Chesterbrook. “We’re still in flux, and we’re still waiting to hear back from some people, but so far it’s very encouraging because the number of people that have told us they are staying makes us feel like we are making the right move.”
Bob Fuqua said if the number of GT students enrolled in the Chesterbrook school-based GT Center increases, he will look into hiring more teachers with GT certification. For now however, he is comfortable with the fact that half of his current staff is either embarking on, or has completed, the requirements for GT certification and endorsement.
“They are doing it because they are very interested in this as well,” he said.
FUQUA said Chesterbrook is also delighted with the quality of its special education services. Special Educator Jennifer Ellis was recently honored with a prestigious ARC Teacher Leadership Award, which is given to exceptional teachers who work with children with developmental disabilities.
“We’re very proud of Jennifer,” said Fuqua.
Ellis was nominated for the award by the parent of one of her students, and by one of her co-workers.
“It meant so much to me that a parent nominated me,” said Ellis.
Ellis was instrumental in creating the three “Discovery Gardens” at Chesterbrook Elementary School. The garden learning areas were funded by the Chesterbrook Parent Teacher Association (PTA) and feature waterfalls, ponds and a plethora of flora, fauna and insects.
“The gardens give us the opportunity to go out and do hands-on activities,” said Ellis. “From GT to Special Education, you can cover a whole spectrum of learning.”
Students engage in activities ranging from landscaping to raising baby ducklings. Fuqua said he will never forget one child who came to visit Chesterbrook with his parents and exclaimed, “look mommy, they play in dirt!” when he spotted one of the Discovery Gardens.
“We have a lot of support in this community from administrators and teachers, and that’s what makes this program work,” said Ellis.