Gifted and talented students in Bloomfield show what they can do

Photo by Daniel Jackovino
Paul Alban, a Brookdale fifth-grade teacher, is the district coordinator for the Gifted and Talented Program.

BLOOMFIELD, NJ — In the Bloomfield Gifted and Talented Program for elementary school students, lunchtime can also be an opportunity for nourishment of the mind for students who excel beyond the standard core curriculum. According to Paul Alban, a fifth-grade teacher at Brookdale Elementary School and the district coordinator for the Gifted and Talented Program, there are 183 fourth-, fifth- and sixth-graders currently in the program, which challenges students, sometimes in the form of games. Excellence may lead to individual or team competition against schools within or outside the district.

“But most lessons do not lead to competitions but some bigger project,” he said.

To qualify for the program, several measures are used, Alban said in an April 29 interview at Brookdale Elementary. One is called the InView cognitive test. According to Alban, patterns and puzzles are used in this test.

“I want to say a lot of it is math based because there are a lot of pattern questions, with shapes, fractions, all sorts of things,” he said.

A second measure is the Teachers College Assessment, which assesses reading comprehension and is taken throughout the year. Another measure is a performance criterion, completed by the student’s teacher. A final one is called the Star Math Assessment, which students take three to four times each year. But using this particular measure this year was an exception, Alban explained.

“We used it this year to identify the gifted and talented,” he said. “We didn’t have the InView cognitive test because it has to be taken in school.”

The COVID-19 pandemic prevented that, Alban said, adding, “We wanted at least three data points.”

Alban has been the district coordinator for the last five years and has been in the district for 12 years and at Brookdale for the last 11. His first year in the district was at Fairview Elementary. He said that, for the last eight years, teachers for the gifted and talented students have been in school. Prior to this, they traveled from school to school. Gifted and talented instruction for fourth-, fifth- and sixth-graders are in scheduled classes, but in K-3, the teacher differentiates instruction within a class. Each school has two gifted and talented teachers. At Brookdale, Alban is joined by Michelle Fanning, a math interventionist for Brookdale and Oak View schools.

“The program is based on state guidelines,” he said. “And the gifted and talented classes encompass all disciplines. We hold classes during lunchtime because regulations say they must be during school time.”

Current gifted and talented competitions include “Shark Tank,” based on the business reality TV program on which an entrepreneur has to convince an investor about their business idea. This competition is open only to sixth-graders. 

Another is the creation of a legal case in a mock trial for the NJ State Law Fair Competition. A Fairview Elementary School team took first place this year against schools from across the state — a great accomplishment, Alban said. Their winning entry was “The Case of the Bowling Alley Backfire.”

Another gifted and talented competition, open only to fourth-graders, is a STEM Day project; STEM stands for science, technology, engineering and math.

“That’s building with constrained materials,” Albans said of the project. 

But the district also has enrichment programs, he said, and these are open to all fifth-, sixth-, seventh- and eighth-grade students. Among the enrichment program competitions is Challenge 24, an arithmetic game for lightning-quick thinkers. The district finals for fifth- and sixth-graders were held Thursday, April 28, at Brookdale. There is also Academically Speaking, a game styled after TV’s “Jeopardy!” The district finals were held in mid-April, and six Bloomfield students are going to the Essex County finals. And there is the fifth-grade only competition, “Battle of the Books.” Alban said it is essentially a trivia game drawing questions from 12 books. There is also a forensics competition, for which a student selects a piece of literature and presents a four- to five-minute reading.

“Sometimes there are students in both the gifted and talented, and enrichment programs,” Alban said, “but it’s not necessary to compete. But students like the idea of competing with other schools in town and locally.

“Usually sports-minded kids get to meet each other,” he continued. “This is an opportunity for academically advanced students to meet. The gifted and talented program is made up from a diverse base of students. They get along well no matter where they come from or what they look like, from all over the world. As they grow up, it’s the norm for them to treat people equally.”