Sunday September 26, 2010

BENNINGTON -- Bennington’s elementary students will soon have access to an online, research-based program that targets students’ interests and provides advanced academic opportunities inside and outside of school, pending positive recommendations from those already using it.

Licenses for the Internet-based Renzulli Learning System will allow every student in Bennington’s three elementary schools, as well as their parents and teachers, to access the research-based program. Through Renzulli, students can take virtual field trips and learn through an enjoyable manner at any computer with Internet access.

Funding for the Renzulli program is available in the Bennington School District budget’s "gifted and talented" line item, which the school board voted to put $50,000 in when the budget was constructed -- although the money did not have a determined use at the time.

Prior to this school year, the district employed one teacher who traveled to all three schools and worked with students advanced beyond their grade levels in various subjects. Building administrators told the board in the winter the practice was not as effective as they would like, so the board asked the principals to present a new idea to engage these students.

The board unanimously voted in support of the Renzulli program pending positive reviews from some of the 2,000 schools that are using it already.

Jean Michaels, principal of Monument Elementary, told the board Monday that gifted and talented students need to be challenged on a daily basis, which Renzulli is capable of doing upon a student’s desire.

"It reaches various talents, which one person going around to three schools and doing that once a week really can’t cover," Michaels said.

As students get started with the program, they develop a personal profile based on the their academic interests, ability in different subject areas, ways they express themselves, hobbies, preferred learning styles, critical thinking, creativity and other characteristics.

Students can then participate in educational learning experiences based on their desires, which Michaels said is the best way for students to learn.

"The educational process really needs to be enjoyed by students, and that will help them engage," she said.

Another benefit of the program is that parents can access it; providing opportunities to increase parent-engagement in their child’s academic growth.

"Parents will have access to this information all the time, they can work with their children and help guide them through it if they so choose," said James Law, principal of Bennington Elementary.

All three schools are looking at a school-wide approach, where students in all grade levels and with all academic abilities can participate.

"We initially looked at this as a gifted and talented approach, but in looking more closely at it, it’s something that could benefit all students," Law said.

Southwest Vermont Supervisory Union Superintendent Catherine McClure said the program in BSD’s three schools could be a good pilot, and if it proves effective it may be something other districts in the supervisory union will to consider.

The total cost of the licensees for the program at all three schools as well as professional development for faculty to make the program most effective for the students is almost $20,000 -- which would leave $30,000 in the gifted and talented portion of the budget.

The board did request to see if a discount could be realized due to multiple schools in the same district purchasing the program.

Contact Dawson Raspuzzi at draspuzzi@benningtonbanner.com