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Kids take over campus!

Calgary and area gifted kids participate in challenging summer camp

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The University of Calgary hosted a meeting of some of the brightest minds around Calgary last week. It wasn't a professional or research convention, it was a summer camp for gifted kids grades two through nine.

The U of C's Centre for Gifted Education held it's 19th annual SUCCESS Summer Camp July 9-20. The centre is the only one of its kind in Canada and has a mandate for research, professional development, parental support, community service and instructional programs. The camp is meant to challenge its participants and promote belonging by bringing bright kids into contact with each other.

In Alberta gifted kids are identified as special needs students because of the unique challenges they face. If their talents are not properly nurtured they risk drop-out rates between 10-15 per cent. Once they get turned off of applying themselves they refuse to do things and they don't develop the skills that are necessary according to centre director Micheal Pyryte.

Gifted students are most commonly identified by IQ scores because they are the most measurable, but Pyryte said that giftedness can come in a wide range of talents including general intellectual ability, creative thinking, social skills, or musical, artistic or kinesthetic ability.

To prevent gifted children from going through school without the needed support Pyryte suggested schools implement group IQ tests.

"Right now at the [Calgary Board of Education] the only students that are identified as gifted are those who are tested by a psychologist and make a qualifying score," he said. "Many of the kids that are identified as gifted are identified because their parents have had the resources to pay for the psychological testing which could range from $1,000-1,500."

Although the U of C's SUCCESS camp charges a fee of $350, fees are subsidized for students who can't afford it.

Pyryte believes all students learn at different rates and an education system that provided opportunities for the individual interests of each child to be met and challenged would benefit all students, not just the gifted.

"The education system's typical curriculum is judged in minutes of how you should teach something as opposed to what you should know," he said. "So [it has] some policies that go against the best interest of children."

A high school teacher who took his masters in gifted education was leading a session for the program. He requested to remain unnamed but, like Pyryte, advocated for the benefits of testing for all students.

"Ideally we would be able to provide testing for any and every child in order to be able to help him or her to his or her best advantage," he said. "Our problem is we don't have such resources and it's very expensive. There [are] a great many students who fall through the system. Ideally we would be able to provide for everyone as a potential basketball player a basketball team and et ceteras."

The instructor advocated for an educational model where kids are separated according to their ability instead of their age. His ideal curriculum would be differentiated enough to accomadate a person �at a grade three math level and a grade 12 English level.

There is contention about how much intellectual ability can be attributed to genetics and how much can be attributed to environment. Pyryte believes it is about 50 per cent of each. Two parenting habits he advocated to develop a child's "giftedness" were promoting in them a wide range of vocabulary at an early age and taking children to places like museums.

Cecile Todesco has two daughters aged 11 and 12 in this year's SUCCESS program. Although unsure if her daughters giftedness should be attributed to "nature or nurture"she said possible factors were she had never done drugs, had always provided them with lots of opportunities and bought mainly educational toys as they were growing up.

Todesco's youngest daughter Hayley is in the gifted program at Hillhurst School and SUCCESS is the second summer educational program she's attended this year, compared to the five she participated in last year. Hayley said she was attending this camp so she had something to do.

"I still don't know what I want to be when I grow up and its really annoying when adults go up to you and they're like, 'What do you want to be when you grow up?' and you don't know and they're like 'Awww, that sucks,'" said Hayley.

Hayley does know she wants to see a solar or lunar eclipse, read a "whole bunch of stuff" and that she definitely does not want to be a mathematician.

"[The camp was] really fun," she said. "I learned a lot. I didn't know what came first in history so I figured a whole lot of that stuff out. And I made a few friends along the way."

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