students being recognized

Thirteen students from Marion County Public Schools will be recognized at an awards ceremony at Western Kentucky University on Friday, September 15 through WKU’s Center for Gifted Studies.

Seventh graders Grayson Myers and Jaxon Whitehouse; 8th graders Melody Hardin, Cameron Knight, Thomas O’Daniel, Grace Hamilton, Mary Beth Masterson, Connor Hutchins, and Alani Wheatley; and 9th graders Haley Garrett, Melina Kargarzadeh, Kenneth Lanham, and Landon Spalding were invited to the ceremony based on their performance on academic exams.

Students earned the invitation based on their scores on the iExcel test or by meeting a benchmark score on the ACT.

MCPS Gifted and Talented Instructor Lesli VanWhy helped arrange for students to take the iExcel test and will accompany students who are attending the ceremony. VanWhy also worked with the MCPS Transportation department to arrange school transportation for students who might not otherwise have been able to attend.

“When I met with them they were super-excited because they didn’t really understand what it was about,” VanWhy said. “They’re excited to travel together and go as a group and we’re going to take them to a nice dinner afterward and just celebrate what they’ve accomplished.”

For VanWhy, the number of MCPS students qualifying for the honor is a testament to the academic talent in the district.

“Every year, more and more students are being recognized for different opportunities. These kids are putting us on the map, they really are,” she said. “The talent that we have in this Gifted and Talented pool is phenomenal. I can already tell strong candidates for future valedictorian and salutatorian.”

Throughout the school year, VanWhy monitors 6th graders’ scores on the iReady diagnostic test -- a platform used widely throughout the school district -- and she submits names of students who score in the 90th percentile in either reading or math. Those students are then able to take the iExcel exam, a test VanWhy describes as a “miniature ACT” intended for high-achieving 6th graders.  

Just by taking the iExcel test, students are entered into a lottery to attend a free week-long residential camp at WKU. This summer, MCPS had 10 students attend the camp where they could sign-up for specialty classes. 

And if they then scored in the 95th percentile on the iExcel, they were invited to be recognized at WKU. Students were also selected to attend if they scored a high school level benchmark score on the ACT.

Alani Wheatley and Connor Hutchins scored well enough on both the iExcel and the ACT to receive an invitation. Hutchins also had his name drawn to attend the summer camp at WKU.

“We stayed in the dorm rooms at WKU [...] and basically you’d go to classes in the morning and do activities at night,” Hutchins said. “There were, for example, engineering classes. They weren’t your regular classes -- they were really focused on one thing.”

For Wheatley, taking the ACT as a middle school student was an important way to familiarize herself with the test, which is widely used for college admission. 

“I feel like it’s good to get to know the test and get used to it,” she said. “Also, so that Mrs. VanWhy and others can realize where I’m at and know if I need more resources and opportunities so I can get to my best potential.”

She also noted that provides validation to the district’s Gifted and Talented program

“People don’t always know what gifted education is, so this [the awards ceremony] shows that we should value it,” Wheatley said.
These types of opportunities are made in part by a federal grant called Project Launch Plus, which focuses on developing talent among high-achieving students who live within three hours of Western Kentucky University. As the school district’s Gifted and Talented Instructor, VanWhy monitors student scores and submits names to the program.

It serves as a way to provide enrichment opportunities and celebrate students’ academic success.

“I think it’s a really good opportunity for kids who aren’t recognized sometimes,” student Melody Hardin said. “I know there’s a lot of really smart kids in our schools and they might not get recognition or the opportunities to reach their full potential, so I think it’s a really good thing that we have those opportunities and I’m very grateful that Mrs. VanWhy is here and she submits our test scores and really just puts us out there.” 

VanWhy also pointed out that having a strong working relationship with classroom teachers and school administrators at Marion County Middle School has helped provide students with these opportunities by finding time for students to take the iExcel test during the school day. VanWhy explained that students take the test over two days, one hour at a time, so that they don’t feel overwhelmed by taking it all in one sitting, and MCMS has been very accommodating in working that into the daily schedule.

“It’s all a collaborative effort,” VanWhy said.

And those experiences are also being noticed by other students as well. VanWhy explained that more students are becoming interested in how they can be part of the Gifted and Talented program.

“They see a lot of the fun things we’re doing and they see some of the Saturday opportunities that these students have and they’re working harder,” VanWhy said. “Once students have access to opportunities they excel.” 

She also explained that parents who believe their child should be part of the Gifted and Talented program should reach out to the child’s teacher or to VanWhy herself by email:

“If given the opportunity, you should definitely join the Gifted and Talented program,” Hutchins added. “It’s really awesome.”

You can listen to VanWhy discuss this opportunity below: