Horizons Program

A Design for Gifted and Talented Education

Using a Schoolwide Enrichment Model

Revised May 2009

Dr. Debra Dunn, Superintendent of Schools

Anita Bernhardt, Assistant Superintendent


In late August of 2000, the leaders of the York Public Schools met to create the first draft of the community's Strategic Plan for education. School Committee members requested that a review of the existing program for Gifted and Talented students be established as a priority. The Strategic Plan timeline included a review process conducted during the 2000-2001 school year and set the date for completed revisions as May of 2001.

The process began with an early Fall meeting with the teacher of the elementary level Gifted and Talented students. The Superintendent and the Curriculum Coordinator were able to obtain information about the current model for delivery of services to students at the elementary and middle school levels. High school services were described by the principal of York High School in terms of the variety of scheduling options available to students, the self-selection of higher-level classes, the availability of Advanced Placement opportunities in some subject areas and the wide variety of extra-curricular options.

After studying the current research on the topic, reviewing the district's existing program documents and reading the recommendations of the community task force report on Gifted and Talented educational programming in York, the Superintendent and Curriculum Coordinator determined that the resources available at the University of Connecticut's National Center for Research on the Gifted and Talented should be utilized in the review and revision process.

Working with a consultant from the UCONN Neag Center, interviews and informational sessions were conducted with a wide variety of stakeholders. In late November and early December of 2000, meetings were held to solicit input into the strengths and limitations of the current program. Students, teachers, administrators, parents and York School Committee members took part in these discussions. In early January of 2001, a parent night was held to provide an extended forum for discussion of the G/T program. Working in small groups facilitated by York administrators, parents responded to a series of questions and the results were forwarded to UCONN to be included in the consultant's report to the district. This report summarized the community input and suggested that the Schoolwide Enrichment Model (SEM) appeared to be an option for programming closely aligned with York's vision of delivery of services for students.

In order to obtain input from all York constituents, a survey was designed and widely distributed. Using the information that delineated what participants in the discussion sessions viewed as valuable components of a G/T program, a series of nine belief statements were created. Survey participants were requested to respond to the statements using a five-point Likert Scale. A tenth question, following a brief description of the proposed Schoolwide Enrichment Model for York Schools, asked survey participants to react to the program design. Space was provided for narrative comments and demographic information. The survey was examined by the Administrative Team and the K-12 Team, consisting of eight York teachers, one principal, the Superintendent and the Curriculum Coordinator. Revisions were made following these reviews and the final survey instrument reflected review and the endorsement of a University of New Hampshire Professor of Quantitative Analysis. In early April 2001, 8000 surveys were distributed through school mailings, handouts and publication in two local newspapers. The community website, YorkNet, was also used to allow residents to respond electronically if they chose to do so. 258 surveys were returned, tallied and the data analyzed. The results are included on the following pages and indicate that community support for a Schoolwide Enrichment Model is significant. Based on this input, a draft design for York's SEM was created.

In late April, a team, made up of a principal, one G/T teacher, one classroom teacher and the Curriculum Coordinator traveled to Connecticut to visit two schools implementing the Schoolwide Enrichment Model. Selected by UCONN personnel because of the strong similarities to the York community, these schools afforded the team opportunities to see the SEM in action. Following observations in each school, debriefing sessions were held with UCONN faculty, including Dr. Sally Reis. Dr. Reis reviewed York's draft proposal and her comments indicated her support and remarked that the York program was "well-thought out." She also requested that, in light of the program design, York consider participating in the first national study being designed at UCONN to measure the effectiveness of the SEM in increasing student achievement on standardized test measures. At the State level, York has participated in the Summer Institute for Gifted and Talented Education at Bowdoin College, presenting a model for effectively encouraging community input and consensus on program design.

While the SEM has been developed and subsequently implemented successfully at the elementary level, the 2002 York Budget vote resulted in a million dollar cut to the York School Department's funding. The Elementary Horizons Program Specialist position was reduced to a .5 position, and the middle level position was eliminated. A three-year recovery plan, as reflected in York's Educational Strategic Plan, included a reestablishment of the K-4 position to .8 in FY 05, and a proposed position for the Horizons Program Specialist in grades 5-8 in FY 06. In May 2004, the voters of York defeated the warrant article that would have increased the Elementary level Horizons Program Specialist to .8 for 04-05. At this point in time, the use of NCLB grant funding to expand the program is being examined. Plans for expanding staffing to include a Horizons Specialist at the high school level will be dependent upon the public support of the proposal for Horizons Program expansion to 9-12. York has been exceptionally fortunate to have hired two Horizons teachers who serve students in grades K through 6.

Currently, because of the budget constraints, grades 7 through 12 address the needs of gifted and talented students through classroom differentiation strategies. Graduate courses and Summer Institute offerings for teachers in Differentiation of Instruction attend to the specific needs of the GT learner, and participating teachers create instructional units designed to challenge and encourage academically able and talented students in lieu of regular instruction. At the middle level, grade 5 teachers have been required to attend a two-day differentiation class with USM instructor Donna Lee, and release time has been provided for them to participate in the training. The supervision and evaluation model in place, K-12, supports the concept of differentiation, and teachers are required to demonstrate how they have adapted classroom activities and learning experiences for all levels of learners, including the academically gifted. A focus on multiple intelligences through full-staff in-service days has resulted in increased teacher attention to the talents of students, K-12. All instruction provided for students through differentiated curriculum opportunities at the 7-12 level, and through the K-4 elementary Horizons program, is in lieu of regular classroom instruction. Students are not expected to accomplish additional tasks because of their higher level functioning, but rather are challenged to explore a subject area, create a project or develop a written product that goes beyond the requirements of the regular classroom. All activities are extensions of the K-12 comprehensive curricula that are aligned to the Maine Learning Results.

Cross-subject teaming in grades 5-12 and the addition of an Advisor-Advisee (TEAM) curriculum at the high school level has contributed to increased understanding of the diverse needs of all learners. An expanded mentoring program, planned through the award of a MELMAC Grant at York High School will connect students with job shadow experiences around their areas of interest beginning in 2005. As teachers work deliberately to plan lessons aligned to the Maine Learning Results, they are actively seeking ways to differentiate their instruction so that the most able learners are participating in activities tailored to their academic needs and reflective of their talents. The need for increased staffing to assist teachers to develop and implement effective differentiation activities is clearly recognized, and the planned Horizons Program expansion to the high school level will include a differentiation specialist. Until the York budget can support this additional position, however, it is incumbent on the administration to ensure that students are being sufficiently challenged at the high school and middle levels. Currently, the placement of gifted and talented students in classes is done by attempting to cluster small groups of students with like talents and abilities to permit effective differentiation activities that can be accomplished through some cooperative learning activities. At the middle and high school levels, participation in music (band and chorus) and art classes allow students to develop their talents. Likewise, the wide variety of elective course offerings and the advanced level courses at the high school challenge academically able students.

The following pages outline a program designed to serve the K- 6 students in York. Community input sent the clear message that we must provide rich opportunities for our highest achieving students. York now faces the challenge of garnering adequate public funding to permit full Horizons program expansion to grades 7-12.

Communication about the K-12 Horizons Program practices and policies is accomplished through publication in the school handbook, and through frequent meetings with staff, parents and community members. Information about K-4 Horizons activities are reported in the school newsletters, and in local newspapers, focusing on the policies and practices of the Horizons program. The on-going communication, reflected in the budget booklet and York's warrant articles, point to the need for financial support for an expanded program.

It is our belief that York's Horizons Program will provide enrichment and educational challenges, encourage creativity, develop talents and raise student aspirations.