Mountain Ridge Gifted Academy

Mountain Ridge Gifted Academy

Laya Reddy, Co-Head Editor

Next year, Mountain Ridge is starting a Gifted Academy. Since the program is so new to the school, there is some ambiguity among students about what it really entails, so I conducted an interview with Mrs. Sparks, a Gifted Specialist and Fully Gifted Endorsed Gifted ELA Teacher, to find out more about it.


The Basics:

Who: Incoming Freshmen that identify as gifted by testing in the 95th percentile or higher in any of the three approved areas on a state approved gifted exam, or incoming freshmen who met the Renaissance Program Score Requirements.

What: Certified gifted teachers work with students on emotional and social issues, like stress management, mindfulness, and goal setting.

When: The Gifted Academy will start next year!

Where: All high schools in the Deer Valley Unified School District will be starting a Gifted Academy next year.


The Nitty Gritty:

Are only students with learning disabilities able to apply for this program?

Nope. Students who are identified as gifted and also have a learning disability (or multiple) are known as “twice exceptional”. The Gifted Academy welcomes students with and without learning disabilities, as the teachers and staff working with these students will have training to best provide for them in the classroom.

If a student is in the gifted program, can they choose to take non-gifted classes? Absolutely! In fact, we believe that in order to receive the best high school experience and become better well-rounded individuals, students should absolutely enroll in electives and coursework that is outside of the gifted program.

If a student is in multiple gifted classes, do they get multiple counselors?

Nope! The teachers for those classes will either have a gifted endorsement or in the process of earning it — so they’ll be trained in how to differentiate and lead gifted adolescents. The gifted students will also have a teacher mentor that they meet with during AcaPreps throughout the year to touch base with and explore topics in social and emotional wellbeing.


Questions you might have about the Gifted Academy:

What is the purpose of the Gifted Academy?

The purpose of the Academy is not to elevate gifted students over not gifted students — it’s to provide support for these students. Not all of them wish to participate in the rigor and high academic demands of an honors course. Students in Ridge’s Gifted Academy can choose whether or not to enroll in honors coursework. Honors coursework is still the higher weighted coursework that colleges and scholarships will be looking for.

Why are we starting the Gifted Academy now?

For many, many years, services for gifted students was mandated by the state, meaning that schools had to provide them, but they were also completely unfunded. Without a budget, our district could previously not even attempt to offer any more support other than differentiating the classes students could take (regular, honors, dual, and AP). Honestly, this just was never enough. Gifted students are best supported when grouped with other gifted students and when curriculum and instructors are in tune with their needs.

Why are you (Mrs. Sparks) passionate about the Gifted Academy, and what training did you have to go through to become a gifted teacher? When my firstborn, Carter, was very little, I felt lost as a parent. While he was so advanced in some areas (he started reading at 18 months old), he was behind in other areas (he wasn’t fully potty trained until he was almost 6). When my son was three, he became obsessively interested in the human digestive system. He memorized the whole thing — esophagus, trachea, duodenum, pancreas, all of it — and that’s when I stopped thinking “oh this is cute” and started thinking that maybe his brain was actually a little different from my own. At the time, my niece had just been diagnosed with Autism, and in researching the neuroscience behind that, I became fascinated with how the brain works and how our “wiring” can be so different. Life has a funny way of showing us just where we should be doing our work. A short time later, my second born son, Jack, was diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder when he was two. Again, but in a different way, I knew from the beginning that he operated a little differently than other children his age. I’ve never cared much for labels — “Gifted”, “Autistic”, “Typical” — that sort of thing doesn’t matter to me. What I cared most about was providing the best learning environment I could for my kids — and that’s exactly how I feel about the students here at Ridge. I decided then to earn my Master’s degree in Gifted Education and serve kids who weren’t being served well by the current system.

Will the other teachers and counselors at our school go through the same training, or will we hire new gifted teachers?

We do not need new teachers — we just need our current amazing teachers here to work towards earning their Gifted Endorsements! Several have already committed (not to name names!) and the more, the merrier. And they don’t have to go about it the way that I did at all. There are several paths that a teacher can take to earn their endorsement, including classes through our district that are offered free of charge, but it is a commitment of many hours of training.

Can upperclassmen choose to take part in this program, or is it only available to freshmen?

Right now, the program is only being offered to next year’s freshmen. However, if there are gifted upperclassmen that would be willing to partner and buddy up with next year’s newbies, I hope they will come to me, because I could sure use their perspective and insight.


Looking Forward:

The more trained educators we have, the bigger the program can be. And, starting with next year’s incoming class of 2023, the program will expand naturally. When these students are sophomores, additional classes appropriate for sophomores will open “gifted” sections, and so on.


We’re so excited to have the Gifted Academy on our campus next year! Mrs. Sparks encourages all students to take part in the Gifted Academy if they qualify, because the students in the program receive support and mentorship, as well as instruction from trained educators, and they share core classes with a cohort of other gifted students, which helps make our large campus “smaller”. For students struggling to decide between classes like Biology, Biology Honors, Biology Gifted, and Biology Gifted Honors, Mrs. Sparks believes students should start by joining the Gifted Academy, as it is a welcoming, inclusive program. After that, they just have to decide if they want the honors credit, and if the classes they choose are offered as a self-contained gifted course, they’ll be placed in the “gifted” period of that class. If you know any incoming freshmen, please share this link with them so they can apply (the deadline is December 20th) : Gifted Academy Application.