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The gifted students of Puente de Hozho Elementary School's fifth grade were a bit of a metaphor when they presented their play on recycling.

The students, seven in all, were diverse, resourceful and they made it happen.

For the kids, it was in how they constructed costumes and set pieces made out of recyclables: armor and backdrops of pie tins and milk jugs, food cans and newspaper, glass beads and Styrofoam and cardboard. Their assignment was to explain what's recyclable in Flagstaff, and they did it through an entirely student-produced play adapted from "The Three Little Pigs."

For Flagstaff Unified School District, providing additional services to intellectually gifted students is legally required, but it's not given special funding. FUSD is making it work through more frequent classes than it had before for its gifted population.

At the elementary level, the 223 identified gifted students through fifth grade -- about 5 percent of the population -- are established now in a daily routine of a block of differentiated instruction.

Before -- when there was also more money -- it was just a weekly pullout session.

"That doesn't even follow the state guidelines," said Marcia Lescault, who formerly taught gifted children at Thomas Elementary and is now a resource, alternative and gifted coordinator at the district office. "They talk about daily."

$32K ALLOCATION GONE

Special services for gifted elementary students were integrated into the regular daily routine about three years ago, when budget cuts took out the seven specialist teachers that led the pullout program. The once-a-week, 45-to-90-minute sessions were replaced with roughly half-hour blocks four days a week during the "response to intervention" time that is now built into every elementary school's daily schedule. (In middle and high school, students can join honors and Advanced Placement sections or magnet programs.)

It's been a couple of years since FUSD received funding for its gifted program. In 2009 -- the year it shuttered the elementary pullout format -- FUSD got $32,000 per year from the state for gifted education.

This year, like all other Arizona school districts, they get nothing. Gifted services are not federally mandated or funded, unlike special education for students with disabilities.

A student can be considered for gifted education by referral, with consideration given to grades and test scores. If he scores at least 94 percent on a standardized test used for gifted identification, he is admitted. This test addresses verbal, quantitative and nonverbal reasoning and abilities. There is also a test for English language learners.

Elementary teachers of the gifted are already on campus, as general classroom teachers or specialists, such as art or physical education. Some of the largest schools, like Cromer or DeMiguel, also cluster the high-scoring students into the same classroom.

"I'm not even sure what some other school districts are doing, but I know this school district is committed toward enrichment for these students and continuing with the RTI time in the elementary, and teachers are wanting to work with these students and provide them what they need," Lescault said.

ART IS EVERYWHERE

At Puente de Hozho, 30 children in grades 1-5 receive gifted services (kindergartners can be referred or tested, but services won't begin until first grade). That's about 10 percent of the eligible population at the magnet school, where children learn half of their lessons in English and the other half in Spanish or Navajo.

Craig Bowie teaches art to all grade levels, and he also participates in the response-to-intervention effort by leading sessions for first-graders who need remediation in reading, fifth-graders who need help in math, and fifth-graders who are gifted.

Wearing many hats has become more the norm for teachers in districts, but Bowie is pleased with his gifted assignment. It's his belief that all children are brilliant, even if they don't meet the test criteria. That's why he lobbied his school to refer to the talented and gifted program as the "N-Rich Club."

"It worries me because sometimes kids don't get in and they're like, 'Oh no, I'm not good enough to be talented and gifted,' and I'm like, 'Nuh-uh, that's absolutely not true,'" he said. "All children are amazingly talented and gifted."

Bowie integrates the arts with his traditional academics, and vice versa. Over the last three years that he's been teaching gifted students, he's led them in a mural on character traits and has worked with children on the Spanish track learning the Navajo words and children on the Navajo track learning the Spanish words. He's also made a group project of an illustrated, 60-foot Flagstaff timeline on butcher paper, had his students research endangered species and assemble their findings on a paper quilt, and showed his students technology, literary and media arts, music and science by assigning them a film that combined the biography of Mozart, solar energy and the use of music to portray messages in movies.

He also likes to make his projects student-driven, like the recycling play -- his role was to supervise rehearsals inside and outside of the 25-minute blocks his students usually get four times a week, and to hold up a large set piece during performances.

"How can I empower the students to do the learning in as independent of a way as possible so that there's discovery involved rather than any kind of didactic approach," he said.

A GOOD FIT

Assistant Superintendent Dave Dirksen said the daily "response to intervention" method is best for FUSD, and that it fits in with the structure for all of the district's elementary schools.

"I think it's a great model, actually, and I think one of the things that contributes to that is I haven't had one negative comment about the model this year."

Hillary Davis can be reached at hdavis@azdailysun.com or 556-2261.

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