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K12 and the Ohio Virtual Academy are meeting the needs of gifted students

Quality curriculum, socialization, and enrichment for all types of learners

Last summer, educators at the Ohio Virtual Academy, a four-year-old charter, or “community,” school for children in grades K through 11, realized they needed to provide additional resources for students identified as gifted or advanced learners.

The academic needs of gifted students at the Ohio Virtual Academy are met by the flexibility of the school’s curriculum, which is provided by K12. Based in Herndon, VA., K12 is the leading provider of curriculum and management services for public virtual schools across the nation. As at other virtual schools, students at the Ohio Virtual Academy, or OHVA, do their coursework online from home, under the guidance of a parent and a licensed teacher.

"It's very important for these
students to have opportunities to
network and socialize with other
like-minded children."

At OHVA, students take courses appropriate for their developmental level, regardless of their grade level. A gifted fourth grader, for instance, might take a sixth-grade math or science class. Still, with roughly 10 percent of the academy’s 4,100 students identified as gifted, administrators decided to launch an Advanced Learner Program this year to provide these youngsters with additional support.

“Originally, we didn’t think we needed a formal gifted program because our curriculum is so rich and flexible,” said Mark Thogmartin, principal of OHVA’s K-6 grades. “We felt that if gifted children were appropriately placed in our curriculum, they wouldn’t need extra activities.”

As it turned out, though, gifted students at virtual schools have special needs similar to those their counterparts in traditional schools have, according to Kelly Morando, coordinator of the OHVA Advanced Learner Program. “It’s very important for these students to have opportunities to network and socialize with other like-minded children,” Ms. Morando said. “They need to see that there are other people who learn like them and feel and act like them.”

OHVA modeled its Advanced Learner Program after similar programs at other virtual schools served by K12. A key component is special field trips for the school’s gifted and advanced learners. “We have outings for all our students, but now we have extra outings for our gifted population to promote their socialization,” Ms. Morando explained. Other aspects of the program include monthly online events to discuss books or current events, extension activities to supplement the core curriculum, and a parent newsletter.

All activities in OHVA’s Advanced Learner Program are voluntary. Any student identified as a gifted or advanced learner is eligible to participate in the program, but students can opt in or out of any activity. The goal is to provide gifted children with opportunities for enjoyable activities that foster companionship and enrichment, explained Dr. Thogmartin.

“At traditional schools, children and parents often complain about gifted programs because the students not only have to do their grade-level work, they have to do extra work as well,” Dr. Thogmartin said. “At OHVA, we allow children to be challenged at their own level without making them feel they have to do extra work on the side.”

Although only a few months old, OHVA’s Advanced Learner Program is expanding quickly. The number of participants, now 428, is expected to grow next year. Perhaps more significantly, the students are starting to benefit from interactions with gifted children at other virtual schools across the country, a result of support from K12.

“Their role really adds a lot of power to the program,” Ms. Morando said. “Thanks to K12 and their facilitation of the program, our gifted students are networking with similar students at other virtual academies, and the gifted coordinators are able to share best practices and pool resources. It’s really starting to move on a national scale.”

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