Early access to school for gifted kids?

Gifted 4- and 5-year-olds may be given the chance to start school a year early if the District 51 board of education chooses to adopt an early access program.

A state law passed earlier this year allows school districts to decide whether to implement a program that tests the suitability of high-achieving 4- and 5-year-olds to enter kindergarten and first grade, respectively, a year ahead of schedule.

Jackie Howard, preschool coordinator for District 51, and Wendy Leader, the gifted and talented coordinator, said the program would target the top 2 percent of gifted 4- and 5-year-olds for early access to schooling.

Prospective students would need to undergo a rigorous testing process, however, to determine whether they fall in that category, the women said.

The district would have to decide how much of the cost to test the children it would assume, but the district would also get additional per-pupil state funding for each student granted early access.

“The decision to make is whether the process is worth it,” Leader said.

Leader and Howard presented the early access program to the board of education at its last meeting. The women estimated two to five children would qualify for early access if 300 parents applied for the program.

Students applying for the program would undergo several assessments to determine if they qualify, as well as a psychological evaluation to determine whether the child is mature enough to leave home and start school.

Some board members questioned whether young children would be emotionally ready to start school early.

“There is a question of separation anxiety,” Howard said. “Is the child ready to separate from the family to enter school?”

Leader and Howard said they estimated the process of whittling down 300 applications to the handful of children that could qualify for the program would cost $7,509.

The women said if the board chose to adopt the program, families wishing to apply could be assessed fees to ease the financial obligation of the district.

Typically, kindergartners must be 5 years old and first-graders must be 6 years old on or before Sept. 15 to enroll for that school year, according to the district Web site.


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