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Gifted and talented: Perham and NY Mills offer unique opportunities to kids

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Poetry and geometry were the first of many topics to be tackled by area students this year in a new Gifted and Talented program.

The program, led by Rex Kingsbury, is new to New York Mills Elementary School this year, and expanded at Heart of the Lakes Elementary in Perham.

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Throughout the year, teachers at both schools select groups of third through sixth grade students to participate in the program, based on their individual strengths in each specific topic. New groups of students are picked every six weeks.

A similar program had already been in place in Perham for a number of years, but under different leadership.

New to Perham this year is an after-school program called YOUniversity. School leaders more than doubled their expectations for attendance in this program, and more than 30 kids currently participate. Most recently, kids in YOUniversity studied the history of animation, from the 1800s to iPads, and eventually created their own short animated movies.

Also new to Perham this year is a Friday program for which Kingsbury travels from grade to grade to work with different classrooms for two weeks at a time. He works with students on age-appropriate projects intended to utilize technology in fun and unique ways. The last class, for example, used PhotoSpeak (an iPad application) to make a cartoon character appear to 'speak' statements the kids had written up beforehand.

Next up for both schools will be a unit on "The History of Aviation." This unit will culminate in an air show, where third through sixth grade students will launch their own handmade airplanes in front of friends and family. There will also be a science-based unit on Thomas Edison, and a unit on silent movies.

"It's an avenue for kids to explore and reach their full potential," said Kingsbury of the Gifted and Talented program. "It gives us an opportunity to entice students, so they can see that learning is fun, so they can express themselves in different ways."

Heart of the Lakes Elementary Principal Kari Yates said the schools were able to fund the program by sharing the cost of Kingsbury's position, and by utilizing special Gifted and Talented Education dollars and Youth Service Learning dollars. The program is not paid for out of either school district's general fund.

"We are so fortunate to have these offerings for our kids, who need more enrichment opportunities," Yates said. "Rex is the perfect person for the job, because he thinks outside the box. He comes up with some truly unique, enriching projects."

NY Mills Dean of Students Travis Hensch said, "The energy and excitement exhibited by the kids is contagious. It's great to see students excited about learning; it's especially nice to see them learning by using each other and not relying upon books and teacher-led lectures."

Poetry in Motion

At each school, the first unit of third and fourth graders learned about "Poetry in Motion."

Using poems by classic children's author Shel Silverstein, students used traditional art, video animation, and music videos to bring the poems to life.

Students were given a chance to use different forms of technology, like iPads, video cameras, and computers.

Kingsbury said that this program "spurs kids on, showing them what they can do with technology."

Geometry: It's Everywhere

The first unit of fifth and sixth graders took on the topic of, "Geometry: It's Everywhere."

Students began by going on a field trip and taking pictures of geometrical shapes and lines in nature and throughout the town.

After that, they downloaded these pictures to the Internet and practiced editing and enhancing the photographs.

They even played around with a video creation website, where they brought still photos to life by putting various parts of the photo into action.

Finally, the fifth and sixth graders made their own models of skyscrapers, using any geometrical item. Materials used include pop bottles, wooden blocks, Lincoln Logs and Legos.

Coming Up

After each session, there will be a parent's night, where parents are invited to see their children's projects.

NY Mills parent's night will be held Thursday, Nov. 10 from 6-7 p.m.

Perham parent's nights will be held on Monday and Tuesday, Nov. 21-22, from after school until 8 p.m. There will also be an Open House for the after-school animation class on Thursday, Nov. 17 from 5-6:30 p.m.

Kingsbury will also have DVDs available for the students to keep.

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