All about stage not age for the gifted at St Eddie’s

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Students Tyler Greenhalgh, left, and Brendan with teacher Emma Ramke. Photo: Danielle Nohra

A GIFTED program at the all-boys school, St Edmund’s College, in Griffith, is knocking down the conventional structure of year groups and, instead, is all about stage not age.

“My ideal school is to have a school without year levels,” says Emma Ramke, the head of diverse learning at St Eddie’s.

Emma took on the role more than three years ago and not long after embarked on further training where she discovered there’s about 10 students, at all schools, who are gifted – meaning they learn at an advanced rate to their peers.

“One in 10 people have a gifted profile, but it doesn’t always feel like a gift and I wanted to change that,” she says.

“People are only just starting to understand the benefits of these programs [such as] enjoyment and an increase in self-esteem.”

In terms of having a dedicated program for gifted students, Emma believes St Eddie’s is the only one in Canberra.

Initially, the program started with 10 students, some interested teachers and the leadership of the college, and has since grown to about 100 students in various stages of acceleration.

There are four stages of acceleration, according to Emma, who says students could be accelerated in one subject, multiple subjects, accelerated by a whole grade, or by multiple grades.

But, she says, they always make sure the student is comfortable and happy to move before they go up a level.

One of the 10 from the original group, Tyler Greenhalgh, now 14, was reluctant to be accelerated in the beginning.

He first went up a level in one subject, History, and then went from Year 8 to Year 10.

Now, he’s in Year 11 but, if it was based on age, would only be a Year 9 student.

“The reason why it came about was because I wasn’t really going to school,” he says.

“I didn’t really want to get out of bed because there was really nothing for me to learn.”

While school wasn’t challenging enough for Tyler, when he did get the chance to move up he was worried he wouldn’t make any friends.

“It’s great though, I made friends really easily,” he says.

“I don’t know how to explain it, I just really clicked with them.

“I think that when you’re gifted and talented you maybe have better social skills and more maturity.

“You also have a chance to create better social skills, which is another bonus of being accelerated.

“Basically, I have friends from Year 9 to 12. I do sport with the Year 9s but do certain things in class with the Year 11s and 12s.”

Being scared initially about moving up a year level is not uncommon, according to Emma, who says students want to learn more but find it daunting from a social aspect.

“[But] we make friendships on the way we think, as opposed to our age groups,” Emma says.

And, she says they would only accelerate a student when they’re ready.

Another student, Brendan, 10, who’s looking to join the Australian Ballet when he’s 15, came to St Eddies after wanting to be accelerated while he was at his old school.

“At my old school I started thinking this is getting a bit boring,” he says.

But Brendan was scared to move up a year level because he didn’t really like the class he would be placed in.

He came to St Edmund’s College initially to see if the school could do anything to support his ballet and Emma says they found he was accelerated in a range of areas.

Brendan, who should be in Year 5, will be making the jump to Year 7 next semester.

“I’m being challenged more and am enjoying school a lot more,” Brendan says.

“I found I’m just wanting to be places more and wanting to be a bit more active with everyone.

“[But] before I was doing my accelerated subjects, I was a bit moody.”

Brendan’s case is the same for all the students in the program and Emma says they see improvement across multiple areas such as life enjoyment and confidence.

“Anxiety can be the dark side of giftedness because gifted people are so heavily stimulated, they can find it hard to sleep or eat,” she says.

Through this program, Emma says gifted students are getting the mental stimulation they need, which is why she believes stage not age is the way to go.

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Danielle Nohra
Danielle Nohra is a "CityNews" staff journalist.

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