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Who Are the 'Light Year Kids'? And Why Fairfax County Must 'Stop and Think'

There is a fierce debate raging in Fairfax County over the future of "light year kids." Why county officials must stop and think.

By Asra Q. Nomani

All children are gifted and talented in their own way. Much like soccer, lacrosse and baseball leagues assign their most skilled players to travel teams, "light year kids" are children who are "light years" ahead of their peers in academics.

In Fairfax County, many of those kids are enrolled in a system currently called Advanced Academic Programs, know as AAP, starting in third grade. Previously, it was called "Gifted and Talented." 

This fall, the Fairfax County Public School system unveiled a proposal, marketed as an "expansion" plan for its Advanced Academic Programs centers in fall 2013. Many parents are standing up in protest to the plan as actually a dismantling, or, as one parent put it, a "dumbing down," of the county's Advanced Academic Programs. 

Just as we have decided as a country that we would leave "no child behind," it's critical we leave no "light year kid" behind.

This blog has been started to give voice to those who seek to make sure we leave no "light year kid" behind, as we work toward improving the education of all children. 

To be sure, there are important issues that need to be resolved regarding the current Advanced Academic Programs system in Fairfax County, including, overcrowding at certain AAP centers, increasing the participation of the county's increasingly growing number of African American and Hispanic students, and improving the quality of education that all children receive.

Yet, one thing is clear: the new "expansion" plan is not ready for primetime.

Fairfax County Public Schools doesn't have a clear plan in place, related to critical elements of establishing new, high-level Advanced Academic Programs centers, including issues of facilities and teacher instruction.

Many parents stand opposed to the proposed plan. One of the finest school systems in the country, Fairfax County is a model for the rest of the country. These parents seek to have Fairfax County's nine Board of Education members vote to table the proposed plan so the Fairfax County Public Schools staff can have a serious, thoughtful conversation with the county's parents, educators, and community members, focused on one important issue: how to best support our county's--and our country's--"light year kids."

They are sending the Board of Education a clear message that their children are taught in school in Fairfax County: "Stop and Think."

Tabling the motion would be a victory for our "light year kids," our community and our country. We need to leave no "light year kid" behind. 

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

Mike Truese December 20, 2012 at 12:41 AM
It seems that the program exploded once subjective factors (read: parents and teachers) began to influence enrollment. Return admission to this program to completely objective, test-based results. Might not stop the prep-takers (and the parents that can afford that), but at least the wanna-bes (pushy parents that need to validate their little precious not-geniuses) and insiders (like teachers who are parents and get their undeserving kid into the program) can be kept out. I've met a few of these so-called 'Gifted and Talented'. Yeah, not so much... Now that I understand it's not pure academics and scores, but also parental influence that grants acceptance, it makes far more sense how they got in. Return the program to pure merit-based, and yes, give the truly brightest students the academic challenges they need without the hangers-on dragging down the curve. But don't label them 'light year' or 'indigo' kids - they already have enough social issues to deal with, as academically advanced students. No kids of my own, light year or otherwise.
Jeffrey Pandin December 20, 2012 at 01:35 PM
Really, this should be part of a larger conversation about school in general. We have made a huge investment in the classroom-based, 30 plastic chairs in a room, fixed bell schedule, 186 days/year, count the instructional hours, 20th century model of education, but research tells us that every kid is different, learns in different ways, learns at different speeds. We tell our teachers to differentiate the educational experience to meet each child's individual needs, but maintain equality across the board. We combine the educational mission with a babysitting mission that says kids need to be supervised and structured. We also expect schools to pick up the slack for parents who can't or won't or don't provide things at home. The school system we have is kind of the lowest common denominator. It doesn't do a perfect job with any of the kids, but represents a compromise between trying to achieve equality while serving everyone's individual needs and providing special help to those who need it, all while providing safety and supervision for 8 hours a day, 186 days/year...within a limited budget. Of course, if you feel like your kid is not well-served by this imperfect system, you are free to make alternate arrangements. You just have to figure out how to pay for it yourself.
Kathy Keith December 20, 2012 at 02:32 PM
Great comment. I taught for a number of years. I did not teach the same way any two years in a row. Why? Because each year was different and every child was different. Never did I teach less than 27 kids in a class. I taught gifted kids, special needs kids, ESOL kids, disturbed kids, shy kids, aggressive kids, Title I kids, and so-called "normal" kids. All were in the same class. Was it easy? NO. Did I make mistakes? YES. Did the children learn and make progress? YES. Could I have done better? YES. Would the children have been well served to have been grouped with like children? For the most part-NO. Except for the emotionally disturbed --there were one or two children I taught throughout the years that would have been better off elsewhere--and the other kids in the class would have also have been better served had the ED kids not been there. I also taught an autistic child who would suddenly start screaming and wailing for no apparent reason. This particular child did not belong in a mainstream classroom. He was too disruptive and upset the other kids. In my opinion, a good teacher can teach a heterogeneous group and ALL benefit. It takes creativity and planning. However, teaching in a school system where every teacher is expected to teach the same thing at the same time takes away creativity and innovation. I do not see how it can be successful.
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Rebekah Everest February 27, 2013 at 04:06 PM
Kathy: I completely agree. Another point that needs to be made is that the centers are not equal as well. The center my child was invited to attend is grossly overcrowded in an ill-repair, and I don't believe the teachers have been properly trained to work with children who are academically advanced. My husband and I opted to keep our daughter in her regular zoned school, and she gets pulled out for services. We just weren't impressed with her AAP center. Whereas, a center closer to Fairfax Station (a more affluent community) which a friend's child attends is a beautiful building, and the program itself is much more robust. The teachers offer more guidance to the children in the program, and overall, they seem better trained. This needs to be addressed before any "expansion" can occur.

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