An Interview with SEEK Instructor, Cindy Nigro
SEEK (Students Exploring and Enriching for the Kingdom) is a special program at WCCS for students in grades 2-7 who exhibit extraordinary performance capability in intellectual and creative endeavors. In this week’s blog, we interview Cindy Nigro, SEEK Instructor & Inclusion Teacher, to answer some of the common questions we hear regarding this program and to learn some tips for encouraging this type of learning in ALL students.
Mrs. Nigro has been facilitating learning in our SEEK classes for the past four years and has a wealth of knowledge and expertise in the area of academic giftedness. She holds a Master’s Degree in Early Childhood Education from Winthrop University and is working toward adding the endorsement of Gifted and Talented to her teaching certificate. Before serving at WCCS, Cindy taught at the Carolina Christian Academy in Clover, SC, where she taught a class of 1st and 2nd grade students. She has also taught at Carolina Christian Academy, Cotton Belt Elementary, and Gold Hill Elementary. Cindy has also served as the Director of Children’s Ministry at Tirzah Associated Reform Presbyterian Church in York.
What is an academically gifted child?
Our SEEK program is designed to allow academically gifted students in the second through seventh grades a chance to explore learning at advanced levels in a setting of their peers. The academically gifted student demonstrates an ability to learn, and mastery of language and mathematical skills at a level beyond their peers of the same age level.
Why do we need a special program for advanced students?
These students can develop frustration, boredom, laziness, and underachievement when not allowed to function at a level and pace in line with their abilities. Academically gifted students often have trouble relating to peers of the same age level and may gravitate toward older children. WCCS strives to meet the needs of this group of children as part of our mission to educate children, so they may bless our world and be effective disciples.
What kind of tips can you share with parents looking to encourage this type of learning with their student?
One great tip I have for all parents is to encourage opportunities for learning without thinking of limits. Gifted children love to learn, analyze, and evaluate. These children will often determine the direction. This may make it harder for you in one sense, because they really do want to discuss everything. Allow the chance to talk through an analysis of anything they choose. Biblical discussions provide a natural opportunity for discussions of right and wrong. We start our sessions with a Bible verse and focus on its application for nine weeks. It is amazing to me the depth to which students want to discuss God’s word. Encourage action on what they are thinking about. For example, I had one concerned student host a garage sale of toys to raise money for a local homeless shelter. The parent supported this child’s interest beyond a simple discussion.
How do you keep students excited and confident in their learning?
SEEK strives to keep students excited about learning, feel good about their abilities, and develop relationships with academic peers. We do this in four ways.
A Ninety Minute Instructional Class: The lessons are designed to be approximately two grade levels ahead of instruction in the general education classroom. This allows students a chance at more challenging material. It helps students to experience some of the frustration and challenge of pushing limits. I have had more than one student tell me that they have never worked as hard on any problem like they do in SEEK.
Socialization During Class: The students are working with their academic peers. Working together builds friendships and helps students learn to collaborate with others that can add different perspectives, strategies, and solutions to the challenge at hand.
Brain Stretch Exercises: The third way SEEK addresses needs is through brain stretch exercises designed to challenge them daily. Each week, students complete an extra assignment in one of the general education classes. There is always more to learn than the level taught. These exercises keep SEEK students digging deeper into the content area of daily lessons.
Research: Finally, we take one quarter to let students research an approved topic. In the past, I have assigned these topics, but this year I am going to let them study whatever they choose. When I shared this with a seventh grade student, he jumped for joy and shouted out potential topics. Now, that is a true academically gifted student!
What else can you tell us about the SEEK program?
The heart of the program is truly the students. We work on some difficult projects for an hour and a half after school, but the learning doesn’t end there. This year the lower school students were given a problem and ninety minutes to build a solution to the problem. They built boats to hold weights, catapults to fling objects, bridges to hold weight and much more. This was fun, but success for me came from hearing parents share how students are continuing work at home. One student built a swing at her grandmother’s home one day when she was bored. Another student built a chute to transfer candy for crushing over the Christmas holidays. The next language arts semester started with plot diagrams of popular stories. One third grader told me that creative writing was so much easier now that he understood plot. These stories are the best sign of success, because I see that learning continues outside the classroom. This is the ultimate goal for students to appreciate the fact that their abilities have value and can be used for God’s glory.
3rd Grade SEEK Student, Mac Wilson, with his Candy Crushing Chute.
My child is not in SEEK. Is he or she missing out?
The answer is no. Your general education teacher is providing the support your child needs to get to the next level. All of our teachers think through how to challenge the child who completes a specific lesson early. A child who does not qualify in one year for SEEK may qualify in the next. Children progress through learning at different rates. SEEK is designed to prevent problems that advanced learners may have if they do not stay engaged in learning.