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'Provide the best for all, so all may be their best'

A two-headed sales pitch for programs that serve gifted and talented students was delivered at the Jan. 20 Perham School Board meeting.

Presenting the case for gifted and talented programs-also referred to as "enrichment"-was Perham's former coordinator Tricia Hamann. She enlisted the help of Pam Pearson, a long-time colleague who is gifted-talented coordinator at the Alexandria school district.

"The gifted are vulnerable to boredom; to the lack of challenge and rigor," said Pearson, in testimony to the Perham school. A veteran teacher, Pearson has 30 years of experience in gifted-talented instruction.

Several parents in the audience also spoke in support of gifted programs-urging the school to reinstate them.

"We're fairly mobile, and we can choose where to live," said parent Dawn Edvall, who suggested that, without instruction for gifted students, the family would consider relocating. "Attracting enrollment is very competitive. If you want to bring kids into the district, promote the gifted and talented programs as a draw to Perham."

Also expressing concerns was parent Liz Swanson, who said her fourth grader had been challenged and engaged in school-up until now. Students need to be challenged and it is not happening as rigorously without a formal gifted-talented program, said Swanson.

Perham's program for the best and brightest students has been essentially eliminated as a result of budget cuts.

With its 27-year history in the Perham district, Hamann called on the board to revive the program by hiring a new enrichment teacher this spring, to start in the fall of 2010.

Because the high school has, in effect, "gifted-talented" programs through its many elective credits and college-level classes, Hamann proposed an enrichment program for elementary to middle school.

There are state funds available for gifted-talented, added Hamann, noting that there are state funds available at the rate of $12 per pupil. This would bring in nearly $17,000 a year toward a gifted-talented program, said Hamann.

Even though Perham's enrichment programs were coordinated on a part-time basis by Hamann, at least 20 percent of the student population was served, she noted.

"Brains are on steroids" for kids ages 1-12, said Pearson, stating that those are the most intense learning years. Grades 3-4 are especially crucial, said Pearson.

When those gifted-talented students enter high school, and they are not challenged, said Pearson, it is not uncommon high-achieving students to engage in riskier behavior and also get in trouble, said Pearson.

Pointing to the school's mission statement was one of the most succinct arguments in support of a gifted-talented program, noted Hamann:

"Provide the best for all, so all may be their best."

To that end, Hamann urged the city to pursue state funds for gifted-talented. She recommended that a teacher be placed for elementary and middle school level students, for fall of 2010.