- Southwest Middle School
Academy gives students a ‘good workout’
Pleasant Ridge’s Gifted and Talented Academy gives students a ‘good workout’
Not many parents will tell you that their child gets a “good workout” at school, especially since the term is associated more so with exercise, physical fitness, and going to the gym. But for Emily Forstinger, that is how she describes the daily school routine for her fourth grader.
“They teach the way I learn,” is what Forstinger recalls her daughter, Lara, saying about her first day of school. This is Lara’s first year in the Gifted and Talented Academy at Pleasant Ridge Elementary School. Her brother is also enrolled in the Academy as a kindergartener.
“After our move from Ohio, my husband and I started looking at schools in the Charlotte area, and the school choice program in Gaston County Schools appealed to us,” said Forstinger. “Lara was identified at an early age as an accelerated learner, and we wanted to find a school that would allow her to grow as a student.”
Teachers in the Gifted and Talented Academy have AIG (academically or intellectually gifted) certification and experience in teaching in an accelerated classroom setting. They facilitate lessons and activities that move students beyond what they can achieve in a traditional setting through in-depth exploration, critical thinking, problem-solving, creativity, hands-on activities, and personalized small-group and one-to-one interaction.
During Black History Month, teacher Bernice Williams assigned her fourth grade language arts class a project that asked the students to research one influential person and write about the person.
“Instead of doing a typical paper or essay, I asked my students to create a Bloom Ball,” said Williams, who has been teaching at the school for five years. “A Bloom Ball is a 3D project that challenges students to use all of the levels of Bloom’s taxonomy (create, evaluate, analyze, apply, understand, and remember). Students create the ball by writing 12 different activities based on their research.”
Engaging classroom assignments and extracurricular activities such as the 20 Book Challenge and math fair as well as music/band, robotics, and Junior Beta Club programs prompted Lari’e Carthen to enroll her son in the Academy from a private school.
“I wanted a more diverse program that would challenge my son academically,” said Carthen, whose child is in the third grade. “I heard a lot of great things about the Gifted and Talented Academy and researched it. In less than two years, this program has improved my son’s analytical and critical-thinking skills.”
Nicole Rosas’ daughter started in kindergarten at the Gifted and Talented Academy when the program was introduced in 2017, and from their initial tour of the school, they felt welcomed by the principal and staff.
“I had Isabella in the Gaston County Schools pre-kindergarten program, and our teacher suggested that she be tested for the accelerated program at Pleasant Ridge Elementary,” explained Rosas. “Even last year when both of my children were virtual, the school made sure our children received their AIG services.”
Pleasant Ridge Elementary offers nearly 60 different clusters throughout the school where all children can learn a skill. While the pandemic has hindered the students’ ability to work in groups on the cluster activities, the focus is still on teaching skills and engaging students in accelerated, personalized learning. “The clusters teach students a skill they may not experience in a traditional setting,” said Rosas.
Some of the enrichment clusters include music, painting, pottery, sewing, and sign language.
“Our enrichment clusters are small-group opportunities that are offered to all students in kindergarten through fifth grade,” explained principal Glenn Cook. “They are tailored to student choice so students have the opportunity to pick from a variety of activities and different things they may be interested in and participate in each week. We are hoping to get back to offering all of the clusters in the near future.”
Like Forstinger’s daughter, students at Pleasant Ridge enjoy getting a “good workout” when it comes to academics as well as enrichment activities that make the school day fun, productive, and busy.