Twelve highly gifted students in Angela Gruetzmacher and Kelly Hanse’s class are doing research projects about objects in space. This might sound like a junior high or high school class, but these students are first and second graders who are part of the new Alvin ISD WINGS Academy.
The WINGS Academy is a school within a school model designed to provide highly gifted students an advanced educational opportunity matched to their individual abilities, strengths and interests.
“These students have exceptionally high IQ scores which is representative of highly gifted individuals. The further away a student is from the norm, the less likely differentiated instruction works. To successfully meet the academic and social/emotional needs of highly gifted learners, a modified curriculum is needed. Gifted students have affective needs that differ from average and high achieving students. The higher the IQ, the more likely it is for a child to need additional support emotionally and socially,” said Patty Hammer, Director of Elementary Advanced Academics.
Jackie Caffey, the district’s Executive Director of Advanced Academics, said “One size does not fit all. As our district is growing, we are seeing students who need more than differentiation and grade skipping to meet their educational needs. When you have a first grade student who is ready to learn fifth grade curriculum, it is not in the best interest of the child to skip four grade levels. The WINGS academy allows the students to learn with others who are the same age and academic level. Having one highly gifted child on a campus causes that child to feel isolated and alone. Clustering the students at the WINGS Academy allows them to have a group of same-aged peers who can learn at the same level and pace. The children finally find a place where they fit in and belong,” Caffey added.
In its inaugural year, the WINGS Academy is located in the new Pomona Elementary School. Currently, only first and second grade students are being enrolled with the plan to grow with the students.
“We plan to add an additional grade each year for the current students who are advancing to the next grade level. For example, next year we will add third grade,” said Hammer. “When these children reach the junior high and high school level, we plan to have systems in place to support the students where they are ready to learn. Our goal is not to graduate students early, but to provide deeper more complex learning throughout their school experience,” Hammer added.
Because they have so few students, teachers are able to instruct the children based on their abilities rather than their grade level.
“Our classroom is tailored not only to each individual child’s needs, but with each topic taught we go much more in depth,” said WINGS teacher Angela Gruetzmacher. “The classes are rigorous and require higher-order thinking skills,” Gruetzmacher added.
The Alvin ISD WINGS Academy is only the second school of its kind in the Houston area.