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Release: May 17, 2001

UI's hosts Gifted Education in Rural Schools conference May 18-19

IOWA CITY, Iowa -- Gifted and talented programs are often considered the province of schools in big cities. But a new report being released this week by the University of Iowa shows that half of the country's public schools -- and 39 percent of all public school students -- are in small towns or rural areas, which means that many academically gifted students are at risk of being overlooked.

"Ironically, the pioneers of gifted education were individuals from rural areas," according to the report "Gifted Voices from Rural America." The report, prepared by the Connie Belin & Jacqueline N. Blank International Center for Gifted Education and Talented Development, is being released Friday to coincide with a two-day Wallace Family National Conference on Gifted Education in Rural Schools, which runs through Saturday on the UI campus.

The conference will bring together leading researchers and advocates for gifted students in rural schools and highlight issues relevant to gifted education in rural schools throughout the nation. The event is open to the public as well, and registration will be accepted on-site from 1 to 5 p.m. Friday in the Triangle Club Reception Room, adjacent to the Richey Ballroom on the third floor of the Iowa Memorial Union. The cost for the full conference is $170. For more information, contact the Belin-Blank Center at (319) 335-6148, or toll free at 1-800-336-6463.

One living testament to the fact that rural areas can produce students of great intellectual ability is UI physics and astronomy professor James Van Allen, who will address the conference as part of a panel presentation during opening ceremonies from 4 to 4:30 p.m. Friday. In 1958, Van Allen, a world renown astrophysicist born and reared in Mount Pleasant, used UI-built instruments carried aboard the first successful U.S. satellite, Explorer 1, to discover bands of intense radiation -- later known as the Van Allen radiation belt -- surrounding the Earth.

Nicholas Colangelo, director of the Belin-Blank Center and lead author of "Gifted Voices from Rural America," said that the report includes some updated statistics on schools in the country's top 20 rural states. But it is primarily intended to tell the stories about some of the unique educators and programs across America that are making gifted education in rural schools possible, despite frequent lack of funding and, in some cases, community support. Testimonials from gifted students are also spotlighted in the report.

Among the schools and programs highlighted in the report, which was co-authored by Belin-Blank Associate Director Susan Assouline with assistance from Jennifer K. New, M.A., are the Jackson River Governor's School for Science, Mathematics and Technology in Virginia; the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District in Alaska; the Nevada City School of the Arts, an arts-based charter school in north-central California; the Native American Preparatory School on the College of Santa Fe, N.M., campus; Idalia High School in Colorado; and, closer to home, the Talented and Gifted (TAG) program at Akron-Westfield Community School in western Iowa.

The Akron-Westfield TAG program offers programming for students in third through 12th grade, despite having a combined K-12 student population of just 700. Much of the credit for the program's success is given to teacher and TAG coordinator Renee Banks.

"More times than not, the TAG program, Ms. Banks and the other kids saved me from difficulty with school or just life," Kris Wolff, a former TAG student and current college freshman, says in the report.

Colangelo will summarize the report's findings as part of the keynote presentation from 4:30 to 5:45 p.m. Friday. His remarks will be followed at 7:30 p.m. by another keynote presentation by C. June Maker of DISCOVER at the University of Arizona titled "Curriculum for the Rural Gifted Student: Problem-solving as the Core Curriculum for the New Millenium."

In addition to several roundtable and panel discussions, conference participants will have the opportunity to sit in on a number of presentations Saturday. Those will include:

  • "Gifted and Talented Programs within the Bureau of Indian Affairs," with Glenn Allison of the Office of Indian Education Programs, Bureau of Indian Affairs, Albuquerque, N.M.
  • "Mentoring the Rural Gifted Student Toward College," with William H. Chrisman, Iowa Radcliffe College Scholarship, Paradise Valley, Ariz.
  • "Real-life Problem Solving for Gifted Rural Students," with C. June Maker of DISCOVER, The University of Arizona, Tucson, Ariz.
  • "Linking Rural Community Resources to Benefit Their Gifted Students," with Diane Montgomery, Oklahoma State University, Stillwater, Okla.
  • "Rural School Consolidation in Early Twentieth-Century Iowa: Lessons for the Early Twenty-First Century," with David R. Reynolds of the University of Iowa.

More information about the conference can be found on the Wallace Rural Gifted Education Conference page of the Belin-Blank Center's web site at http://www.uiowa.edu/~belinctr/special-events/rural/index.html.