By Jelani Gibson

For the Prosper Press

Gifted Minds Prosper plans on increasing engagement efforts throughout all grade levels, organization President Tina Marr said in a Feb. 13 interview following the group’s board meeting.

The non-profit organization is comprised of parents and professionals who work to support and create “expanded opportunities for the education of gifted and talented students of all ages in the Prosper Independent School District and their families,” according to website.

Gifted Minds Prosper oversees additional funding and help for PISD’s Gifted and Talented program, which serves academically advanced students who exceed traditional curriculum standards.

The Gifted and Talented category of education was established by the Texas legislature in 1977 and mandated for all school districts in 1987, according to the official Texas Education Agency website.

The category identifies students who exceed classroom standards and have autonomy to do self-directed learning and research that suits their academic needs.

Supplementing and producing unique engagement opportunities for Prosper ISD is the primary goal of Gifted Minds Prosper, Marr said.

“This is a smaller sector that we’re able to focus on specifically that (students) may need, challenges they may have,” she said.

Gifted Minds Prosper’s next goal “is going to be to do more grants next fall to be prepared to provide more things to the ISD,” Marr said.

Having events where students present their researched projects to adults and receive real-time feedback is a specific initiative the foundation wants to focus on as well, she said.

Another idea has been to have upper grade-level students present to other students and adults.

Engagement is critical for higher grade-level students, said Theresa Biggs, PISD director of advanced academics.

“Right now, the conversation is mostly about engaging the students in a different way more than it is with resources,” she said. “

Prosper ISD’s Gifted and Talented program has changed over the years, said Seth Rutledge, the district’s advanced academic coordinator.

“The amount of offerings that we have here in Prosper ISD has really expanded,” he said. “When I got here, we were serving gifted, primarily in the AP (advanced placement) and pre-AP and dual-credit classes. At the high school level, we opened up the Gifted and Talented sections of humanities.”

Engaging in education that reaches outside the confines of a traditional classroom is what makes the Gifted and Talented category different from other forms of learning, said Biggs.

“Authentic, real-world engagement so it transcends the classroom,” she said. “It becomes a transdisciplinary experience, not just a disciplinary experience.

“Disciplinary would mean that it stays within one subject area, pretty much within the discipline, within the classroom. Transdisciplinary is learning that extends outside of the classroom and usually connects other subject areas, so that what’s being learned in a classroom then becomes practiced in real life,” she said.

The rate at which students acquire foundational knowledge plays a large part in creating effective curriculum, Biggs said.

“It’s not necessarily what the students know, it’s in how they know,” Biggs said. “How do they think, how do they learn. … With most of our gifted kids, the foundational knowledge they acquire really fast, and they’re ready to move into application.”

For example, “In an AP course, you can have a non-gifted AP student that would need more time in acquiring the foundational knowledge,” she said. “But your gifted kid just picks it up quickly and they’re ready to do something with it.”