The gifted self-contained program in the Kyrene School District has been revamped for this school year.
There are two schools in the Kyrene district, Monte Vista in Ahwatukee Foothills and Cielo, that offer the third-grade program, which has the students working at an accelerated pace.
The program is open not just to those who show exceptional math or verbal abilities, but it's also open to students with creative capabilities and who can "think outside the box."
The difference between this year's program and one that was tried years back is that the criteria has been modified to allow a wider range of students. When Kyrene operated the program before, it was open to students who were in the upper most percentile in math and verbal skills. In this year's program, students who scored in the 97 percentile in math or verbal were eligible.
It is also open to students who scored in the 97th percentile on the nonverbal portion of the Cognitive Abilities Test and who also scored in at least the 85 percentile in math or verbal.
"We wanted to make it open to as many kids as we could," said Dr. Shari Duke, director of Exceptional Student Services at Kyrene. "They're still getting that deeper exposure to verbal if they are excelling at math or visa versa."
Brandy Jones teaches the class at Monte Vista and she said she encourages them to work with others and to be independent. For each subject, the students will work in groups in which they have the same skill level.
Her style is tougher, she concedes, at first, but if the students can make it through the learning curve, there are rewards at the other end.
"They get frustrated, for example, because I don't just hand out the answers and they have to seek them out by themselves," Jones said. "I will tell them to look in the book; the book will tell them everything."
She hopes that if this year proves a success, and she says it will, the district will look into developing a fourth- and fifth-grade gifted self-contained program.
"So far it has been unbelievably successful," Jones said. "This class revolves around the individual student, what are their strengths, what are their weaknesses, we focus on both here."