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Gifted Program Focuses on Equity, Inspires Statewide
Gifted Program Focuses on Equity, Inspires Statewide
Posted on 03/25/2021
BCS' gifted program has been identified as a state leader in the pursuit of equity and excellence.Featured Photos: (Collage, below) Students engage in specialized projects throughout Buncombe County. Photos shared by AIG Specialists.

By: Benjamin Rickert
BCS Communications Dept.

Buncombe County Schools’ program for advanced and gifted students has been identified as a state leader in the pursuit of equity and excellence.

As part of a NC Dept. of Public Instruction strategic initiative designed to help advanced students from all racial, ethnic, economic, demographic, or other backgrounds reach their full potential, BCS’ Academically and Intellectually Gifted Services (AIG) program was highlighted in a guidebook shared with the State Board of Education and schools across the state. The guidebook was also publicized by the National Association for Gifted Children.

“We’re working to ensure that our program’s population reflects the population of learners we have in Buncombe County, because giftedness crosses all genders, races, languages, and social or economic statuses,” said Christine Cutshall, BCS’ Lead AIG Facilitator for grades 5 through 12. “It is truly about potential, and we want to recognize and develop that potential across our entire student population.”

Students engage in enrichment projects in Buncombe County."Our gifted programming strives to be inclusive," added Stephanie Knox, BCS' Lead AIG Facilitator for grades kindergarten through fifth. "We work to eliminate hurdles by creating pathways for students to reach their academic potential, starting early in their academic journeys. Our identification process reaches every student regardless of the language they speak, the experiences they may have missed, or how they present socially or academically."

The Call to Action guidebook prepared by NCDPI’s Division of Advanced Learning & Gifted Education outlined six critical actions for realizing equity and excellence in gifted education. BCS served as a Promising Practice example for the first critical action, which is to “Reframe your lens.” This action challenges educators to analyze their beliefs, experiences, influences, environments, responsibilities, and views of self and others. It also challenges them to view students as “at-potential” rather than “at-risk.”

The guidebook outlined two BCS strategies. First, BCS’ AIG professional development program used a book study to identify cultural biases, evaluate services, and increase responsiveness to underserved populations. Second, AIG Specialists have teamed up with K-3 teachers to develop flexible learning experiences for all gifted students.

“The book really challenged us to think about our own cultural competencies. What are our biases, and how do we see those reflected in everything that we do?” Cutshall said. “We’re all on a spectrum of learning. So, the goal is to take that growth mindset and learn to talk about it — to say, ‘this is where we are, this where we want to go, and these are the things I need to learn more about.’ And, of course, that’s a life long work, but we’re committed to engaging in it here.”

Cutshall and Knox work together to lead BCS' AIG program and 22 AIG Specialists. Their AIG Plan ensures that a specialist is assigned to each K-8 school to collaborate with the community about advanced learner needs, lead student evaluations, provide ongoing teacher support for differentiation, and deliver direct instruction to gifted students. Every three years, a team of AIG Specialists closely considers research, data, and community input to revise the plan, ensuring that the best methods, research, and resources are benefiting students.

“Our goal is always to get the most comprehensive picture of the student, so that we can see what the child’s needs are,” Cutshall explained. “If their needs are well met in a regular classroom, then that’s fabulous. But if they are demonstrating additional needs, then that is what we focus on.”

Under North Carolina’s Article 9B, gifted students are able to receive specialized educational experiences to cultivate their abilities, with an emphasis on reading, math, and intellectual talent. In Buncombe County, students may receive specialized instruction, access to advanced projects, or cross-disciplinary experiences like connecting history or art lessons to math principles. Students may be nominated for the AIG identification process by parents, teachers, or even themselves. Parents can learn about AIG services and identification by visiting the AIG website, contacting school AIG Specialists, or talking to their student’s teacher.

Buncombe County Schools is in the process of reviewing its website to ensure compliance with Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act and Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act. Buncombe County Schools does not discriminate on the basis of sex in its education programs or activities and is required by Title IX of the Education Amendments Act of 1972 and federal regulations to not discriminate in such a manner. This requirement extends to admission and employment. Inquiries about the application of Title IX and its implementing federal regulations may be referred to the Title IX Coordinator and/or the Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights in the Office for Civil Rights at the U.S. Department of Education. The Title IX Coordinator's contact information is: Shanon Martin,, 828-255-5918, 175 Bingham Road, Asheville, NC 28806.

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