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Sunday, October 31, 2004

Teacher Penny Hahs works with two of her students as they play "pebble math."
SIKESTON -- "Ms. Hahs, Ms. Hahs," cried a second grader while holding up a self-made construction-papered monster mask. "Is this right?" asked the child to his teacher.

The mask seemed like the work of any other 7- or 8-year-old.

"Where are your four colors? Where's your something that moves?" asked Penny Hahs as she scanned the creation.

But in this class, not just any "monster face" will do. Hahs has attached specific criteria to the project: It has to have a nose and ear of equal length; eyes that can open and shut; a minimum of four colors; two angles that together add up to a straight line (with the note: "supplementary angles equal 180 degrees"); and one part that moves.

And there was more: Once the face was completed, students had to write 10 words to describe it using a dictionary and thesaurus.

For the past 20 years, the EAGLES program has met the needs of the academically gifted children at Sikeston R-6 Schools. EAGLE stands for Ensuring the Academically Gifted a Learning Environment.

"If you look at the opposite end of the spectrum, which would be special education students, we're saying the exact same thing they are --that these students have special needs," said Hahs, elementary EAGLES teacher.

EAGLES for elementary students is located at Lee Hunter Elementary, where 54 students in grades 1-5 from the entire district are bused in for the program Monday through Thursday. First graders attend for half a day with the second grade, and all other grades have class all day.

"Certain learning styles do not work with all students so this is done to better meet their needs. You can give them the freedom that they're giftedness desires," Hahs said.

Fourth graders Hayley Lambert and Ryan Norton have been in the EAGLE program since first grade and said they love the program.

"We get to do a lot of different stuff," said Ryan.

"It challenges your mind more than when you are in your normal class," said Hayley.

Within the program, major units and objectives are covered for each grade level, Hahs noted. A depth and higher level of thinking is involved in the classes, she said.

"My job is to try to differentiate instruction with students," Hahs said. "I'm not supposed to sit on top of the regular classroom curriculum, but off to the side so it doesn't cause problems in the classroom."

Students in grades 6-8 take the EAGLES class one hour a day in place of reading class. Students in grades 9-12 take EAGLES in place of a regular elective course. Currently there are 66 EAGLES students in grades 6-12.

"Probably the nicest part of it for the older children is they're in a class with peers, but they can talk about some of things they encounter and get into deep issues they don't necessarily get to talk about in other classes," said Tracy Morgan, EAGLES teacher for grades 6-12.

Students in grades 6-8 participate in national programs dealing with math and reading problem solving as well as other activities.

Ninth graders are doing a pilot program this year. "To get a health credit, each student has a system of the body and will make presentations and teach lessons on their unit," Morgan explained. "They'll be coming up with test questions and learn what leadership skills are."

And three years ago, the Sikeston Senior High was added to the EAGLES program with the 10th, 11th and 12th graders each doing an independent study.

"Kids really enjoy it and it's a time for them to be with other kids like themselves," said Morgan about her students. "They can sit and talk and do in-depth things."

Certain criteria must be met before a student is considered for the program.

If a child is identified as possibly needing gifted resources, then they are referred to their counselors for the EAGLES program, Hahs explained. If they scored at the 95th percentile or better on the standardized Terra Nova test, and a teacher or parent agrees for further testing, then the student is tested individually with an IQ test. Students scoring a minimum of 125 and above are eligible for EAGLES with parental consent.

Sikeston's gifted education program falls under the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education and Gifted Association of Missouri. EAGLES is funded 60 percent by the state and programs also receive a stipend per student. Hahs admitted she doesn't know if the program's changed a lot over the years, but she knows the program is a necessity.

"The reason they're here is they honestly have a need," Hahs said. "The emphasis is motivation, self-direction and the joy of learning."