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University of Iowa News Release

Sept. 29, 2003

UI Gets $790,035 Grant To Help Gifted Students In Alternative Schools

Alternative high schools are typically a last resort for students with chronic truancy, drug use, disruptive behavior, failing grades or other serious problems.

Despite the stigma, officials with the University of Iowa College of Education believe that at least some of these students may be academically gifted and in need of specialized educational opportunities that will help them succeed - and even excel - in school.

To determine how many such students exist, and how best to serve them and their teachers, the college's Connie Belin & Jacqueline N. Blank International Center for Gifted Education and Talent Development recently secured a three-year, $790,035 federal grant.

The questions are especially relevant as the student population of alternative schools continues to grow. In Iowa alone there are more than 100 alternative schools serving an estimated 8,000 students.

"The message we hope to send to these students is that even though you're in an alternative school, attending a highly selective university is not out of reach," said Nicholas Colangelo, Ph.D., director of the Belin-Blank Center.

The Jacob K. Javits Gifted and Talented Students Education Program grant was awarded by the U.S. Department of Education to the Iowa Department of Education on the Belin-Blank Center's behalf. U.S. Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, was instrumental in winning passage of an expansion of Javits funding under the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001, which holds alternative schools to the same academic standards as other schools.

The Belin-Blank Center and Iowa Department of Education will work the first year with 3,000 students in seven alternative high schools across the state: ECHO Alternative High School in Tiffin (in the Clear Creek Amana School District); Central Alternative in Dubuque; Kanesville High School in Council Bluffs; Woodbury County Alternative High School in Sioux City; Metro High School in Cedar Rapids; Kimberly Campus in Davenport; and Scavo Campus in Des Moines.

The project has five elements. The first involves creating a process for identifying academically talented students in alternative programs. The second involves documenting and describing information about the characteristics of these students. Teachers in alternative schools will then be trained to support such students, and schools will be guided in developing high-level courses and content for talented students.

The final phase of the project calls for distributing information to other alternative schools and developing a model of assessment and professional training.

"We want to build a model in Iowa and make the state a leader in this area," Colangelo said.

Paul E. Johnson, Ph.D., administrator of the Kimberly Center, said he's excited to have the two alternative school programs he supervises take part in the project.

"We have a number of new approaches we've been using at the Kimberly Center, and this just adds another dimension to our learning environment," Johnson said. "We think it'll be a tremendous help to our students and our staff."

Johnson said his staff has already identified a number of gifted students among the 500 enrolled in alternative programs through the Kimberly Center.

"I think we've seen that in history a lot of people who make great achievements weren't recognized until later years," he said. "I think it's just a matter of our uncovering hidden talent at an earlier age. This grant will allow us to do that. And it will help our staff implement more research strategies to meet that need and develop that student to the full potential. We want every child to reach his or her highest potential."

STORY SOURCE: University of Iowa News Services, 300 Plaza Centre One, Suite 371, Iowa City, Iowa 52242-2500.

CONTACTS: Media: Stephen Pradarelli, 319-384-0007, stephen-pradarelli@uiowa.edu; Program: Nicholas Colangelo, Belin-Blank Center director, 319-335-6148