College of Charleston Professor of Teacher Education Julie Dingle Swanson ’76 has received a federal grant to train teachers to identify and academically develop gifted and talented students in several low-income (Title I) elementary schools in Charleston County. The grant was one of 10 awarded nationally.
Swanson’s five-year, $2.3 million grant proposal was recently awarded $471,740 from the U.S. Department of Education’s Jacob K. Javits Gifted and Talented Students Education Program. The award represents 100 percent of the project cost for the program’s first year. Future years are expected to be funded at similar levels.
The goal of “Project Talentum Academe” is to transform several Title I elementary schools in Charleston County into Talent Development Academies. These academies will open up access for high-poverty, culturally diverse children to develop their talents and abilities. Teachers will use rich, interesting, rigorous curriculum proven to be effective in improving student achievement and learning.
Swanson said students in economically disadvantaged communities are historically underrepresented in gifted and talented programs. By creating a more demanding academic environment and teaching teachers to use high-level curriculum, teachers will see the strengths and potential of their students. The program seeks to identify and nurture a greater number of gifted and talented students in the selected schools.
“We are working under the notion that teachers will be talent scouts and see students at potential rather than at risk,” Swanson said.
The program will issue a request for proposals to qualifying schools by early 2015. A total of six schools will be selected to take part in the program, which is expected to be up and running by summer 2015.
If funded for the entire five-year window, the project is expected to reach about 1,800 students and as many as 240 teachers.
The academies will be rigorous, demanding and nurturing places where students are encouraged to challenge themselves academically. “This looks at students from a growth mindset and asks, ‘what strengths do they have that we can build on?’ It raises the bar and is designed to bring out the best in them,” Swanson said.
The grant proposal grew in part out of an existing partnership between the College’s Department of Teacher Education and the Charleston County School District called “Project Breakthrough.” Under that project, Title I teachers apply for and are selected to participate in a graduate certificate program in gifted education at the College of Charleston. The program currently has 22 teachers.
The preparation of the grant proposal also got a boost from research that Swanson conducted during a recent sabbatical. Swanson examined Javits-funded projects conducted by universities and school districts in other states. The curriculum and strategies that proved to be successful in those programs will be incorporated into Swanson’s project in the Charleston County schools.
RELATED: Learn more about the Javits Program.
Swanson, a native of Summerville, S.C., earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees in elementary education from the College of Charleston. She received a doctorate in educational leadership from the University of South Carolina. She began working at the College as a research associate in 1992 before joining the faculty in 1998.
Fran Welch, dean of the School of Education, Health and Human Performance said, “The focus of the grant project aligns perfectly with Swanson’s extensive research background in gifted and talented education and underrepresented groups.”
In addition to Swanson, other faculty members from the Department of Teacher Education taking part in the project are professor and department chair Meta Van Sickle, assistant professor Anne Gutshall, assistant professor Laura Brock and adjunct instructor Della Jo Marshall.
The partners from the Charleston County School District are Denise Zacherl and Karen Reed.
While the program will be centered on teacher development, the long-term benefits for students, schools and the larger community could be far-reaching, Swanson said. “This project will support teachers and schools’ efforts to create a cultural shift in which teachers build on students’ strengths and talents as opposed to focusing on students’ deficits as the starting point, which we know does not narrow the achievement gap.”