STEPPING UP THE Pace; the PACE Program Challenges and Liberates Gifted Children, and It's Success Is Evidenced by Proposals to Expand It Here

Article excerpt

Byline: lisa miller

With her golden brown hair pulled back into a thick pony tail, 11-year-old Ascheneth Oyervides plops down into a chair at a friend's desk and begins to rattle off her latest masterpiece.

It's a short story, still without a title, about a girl searching for her lost brother in the woods. The girl encounters monsters and creatures during her journey and finds out later she's been trapped in a black hole.

"No," Oyervides says confidently when asked if she knows how the story ends. "I'm still thinking it along."

The fifth-grader is just one in her Cunningham Creek Elementary class of 25 allowed a "free" writing period. One student wrote a sci-fi comedy about aliens taking over the earth, another about war.

"I think it's awesome because a writer should have the free will to write whatever she or he wants," Oyervides said. "Writers are supposed to think outside the box, so it feels kind of good not to have limits."

They're allowed to write anything. The point is that they have the opportunity to do it, says teacher Cristin Rudi.

"It's good for them to have the freedom because so often we structure them or give them a prompt," she said.

Rudi is one of Cunningham's six gifted or PACE -- Program for Academic and Creative Endeavors -- teachers, who work daily with the school's more than 100 gifted students. The accelerated learning environment varies greatly from regular education classrooms and promotes higher-level thinking, inquiry, creativity, self-understanding and independence.

growth drives pace's expansion

The St. Johns County School District has deemed the program, which is at six other schools throughout the county, a success and is looking at plans to expand the curriculum to two schools in the northwest --Julington Creek Elementary and Fruit Cove Middle schools.

Superintendent Joseph Joyner said the northwest's massive growth in recent years made it "inevitable" that gifted would eventually begin at other schools.

"Our philosophy for the expansion of special programs is two-fold, when it's financially feasible and educationally sound," he said. "We've been looking at this for some time."

The couple hundred northwest gifted students today are bussed from their neighborhood schools to Cunningham Creek and Switzerland Point Middle, Joyner said, so offering the program at two schools along Race Track Road would allow students to take advantage of the program, without having to travel far away from home.

"I think it's real good for the area . . . we think this is a good thing," he said.

Gifted essentially pays for itself, as the state's allotted dollar amount per student is shifted from one classroom to the next.

Two informational parent meetings about the program's expansion are planned, the first being 6:30 p.m. Thursday at Julington Creek Elementary. Fruit Cove Middle has scheduled a meeting for 6:30 p.m. March 7.

a quickened pace

The gifted program began years ago in St. Johns County schools, first at Webster and Murray in West Augustine. As more families moved to the area, more students qualified, and the program was added to Cunningham and Switzerland Point, Ponte Vedra-Palm Valley Elementary, Rawlings Elementary and Landrum Middle schools. …