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Icelandic educators tour East Longmeadow schools

Date: 11/5/2015

EAST LONGMEADOW – Two Icelandic teachers recently visited district schools to learn more about its Gifted and Talented program to help implement the educational model at their schools in Iceland.

The tour took place Oct. 20 and included district staff meeting with Deputy Head Teacher at Varmarskoli School in Iceland Bjork Elinisdottir and Vermarskoli Math Department Head Asta Benediktsdottir as well as Mary Grace Stewart, an enrichment teacher at Academy Hill School in Springfield, who helped coordinate the meeting with the Icelandic educators.

Superintendent of Schools Gordon Smith said the Academy Hill School and East Longmeadow Public Schools have similar gifted and talented programs, which helps students find unlock their creative and unique talents throughout their academic career.

“We’re committed to making sure that all our educational programs recognize individual student differences, abilities, interests, and needs,” he added.   

Smith said the district has gifted and talented teachers visit K-5 classrooms across district elementary schools.

“At [Meadow Brook Elementary School] we have a gifted and talented teacher by theIceland-2-EL.jpg name of Faith Wint and so what Faith does is she meets with each grade level of teachers and she looks at what is going to help them augment and extend the curriculum that they are teaching and help students connect with some of their different skill sets,” he added. “She has concentrated a lot on science and social studies.”

One aspect of the K-2 program at Meadow Brook involves utilizing a more hands-on approach to learning, he noted.

Other gifted and talented teachers include grades 3 to 5 educators David Axelrad at Mapleshade Elementary School and Deborah Barry at Mountain View Elementary School, Smith said.

The program continues for students in grades 6 through 8 at Birchland Park Middle School under the direction of Suzanne Collins, who teaches science, technology, engineering, art, math, and special classes at each grade level. Students at Birchland Park rotate through special and elective courses throughout the year.

As students enter fourth grade, the Gifted and Talented program expands by identifying students in fourth and fifth grade levels who meet with gifted and talented teachers in small groups to explore educational concepts in greater depth, he noted.

Smith said he would like to take a trip to another country in the future to learn about how different nations are educating students.

“I took away from the [experience] that their setup in terms of how they organize grades is very similar to how we organize grades,” he added. “We were in one of the Mapleshade classrooms and I said, ‘Mapleshade’s one of our older buildings’ and we walked in and went to the classroom and their looking around the classroom and said, ‘This is so much bigger than our classrooms.’ They were impressed by our classrooms in terms of room space.

He continued, “It just struck me that no matter where you live in the world there are challenges to educate your children to the best of each country’s ability.”

Smith said sustainability and funding for a Gifted and Talented program at Vermarskoli School have been issues, which they hope to resolve with new information gained from schools in Massachusetts.