Language no barrier here

Lucia Gandrud entered second grade at Elon Park Elementary last year as an English Learner (EL). Now, when she speaks, her classmates listen.

Lucia was identified as a gifted student through second-grade assessments that use multiple criteria, including a portfolio process developed through the Talent Development (TD)/EL project. The portfolio provides another opportunity for EL students with qualifying scores on the Cognitive Abilities Test to demonstrate gifted behaviors.

Born in the U.S., Lucia lived in Mexico for two years with her parents – her father is German and her mother is from Ecuador – and her predominant languages are English and Spanish. She is well traveled and easily expresses herself on a range of topics, such as her family's visit to a World War II concentration camp in Germany.

"Being there makes you think more deeply about certain events and how they affect you," Lucia said. "I have different views from other people's views. If you show creativity, you help other people view things the way you do and you can change things."

Lucia is the kind of student that teachers in a TD/EL partnership want to find.

The TD/EL project aims to increase the diversity of students identified as gifted, to nurture the potential of EL students and to help maximize each student's academic potential. The project started at one pilot school during the 2010-2011 school year and went districtwide in 2016-2017.

6.8.18.TD.EL_inside pic.jpgThe program, created by CMS educators, has been very successful. Earlier this year, the State Board of Education invited Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools to present its work on identifying gifted EL students. Data from 2011-2012 to 2016-2017 shows an increase of gifted students in CMS by race: Hispanic students identified as gifted increased by 70.41 percent; Asian, 67.66 percent; African-American, 8.98 percent; multiracial, 4.66 percent; and white, 2.72 percent.

"We are really advanced in terms of our progress," said Charlotte "Nadja" Trez, executive director, English Learner Services. "It has definitely been a learning process to merge [TD and EL] and keep the level of rigor."

Classroom, TD and EL teachers work with students identified as potentially gifted to create work samples evaluated in the portfolio process. The student work is scored based on advanced language, analytical thinking, motivation, perspective and artistic ability.

Julia Le, a fourth-grader at Berewick Elementary, speaks Vietnamese at home and was in the EL program from kindergarten through third grade. Her first-grade teacher recognized her high potential, and Julia completed a portfolio the next year. TD teacher Melanie Ragin said it is difficult for most students to complete five samples really well – but Julia finished 13 work samples demonstrating her writing and artwork.

"I didn't really know what it was for, but I got to write stories and it was really fun," Julia said. "I just said, 'OK, let's go do it.'"

EL teacher Mary Campbell said Julia consistently exhibits leadership, open-mindedness, self-motivation and critical-thinking skills and has continued to excel academically over the years.

"But most importantly, she has blossomed into a confident and expressive student," Campbell said.

Julia said some EL students may doubt their abilities but they shouldn't.

"Some people think you're stupid, but you shouldn't be labeled," Julia said, "Don't think they can't understand you just because they can't say it. They just need help."

When Lucia, now a third-grader, went through the portfolio process, her teachers realized her talents in reading, reasoning and writing.

"Lucia has wonderful ideas – if she's not saying it, she's writing it – and it is a very complex thought," said Andrea Kebert, TD teacher. "Her classmates know she has a different view and she challenges them to think differently."

EL teacher Marie Deegan said the portfolio opportunity gives teachers more time to evaluate students and see what they may otherwise have missed.

"Lucia is such a strong writer and just has a way with words that makes her unique," Deegan said. "If we didn't have this protocol, some kids' potential might not have been realized."