To address these social and academic issues, the Waco, Texas, Independent School District (2005) initiated a project offering AP Spanish Language to eighth-grade Hispanic students and later expanded to three years (Rakow, 2005). The goal was to promote student success, develop self-confidence, and support student academic aspirations among an at-risk student population. In the three years of program implementation, 117 students took the class and corresponding AP exam. Of these, 92 (79%) earned qualifying scores of 3, 4, or 5 on the exam and four high school credits. In addition, the AP students were more likely to participate in honor societies (29.3%), academic clubs (36.2%), and to win an academic honor (41.4%), as compared with the HE and HS students. In addition, more of the AP students reported planning to participate in AP courses (92.7%), dual credit (67.9%) courses, honors courses (52.8%), pre-AP courses (52.8%), honor societies (37.0%), and service clubs (24.1%) in high school than those who spoke Spanish as their first language and Hispanic students who spoke English as the first language who did not participate (Kettler, Shiu, & Johnsen, 2006).
The Office of Civil Rights is alarmed by the underrepresentation of African-American students in gifted programs (as noted in Hertzog, 2005). The achievement gaps between Caucasian students from middle-to-high income homes and those from minority and low-income homes is a serious concern in the U.S. Hertzog (2005) conducted a study to examine the introduction of project-based learning as a school-wide program that would higher levels of achievement and recognize the potential in a student population that is normally underserved in gifted programs. Project-based learning is more often found in gifted programs than in classes where students perform below age or grade level. The purpose of this school's initiative was to alter the environment for learning to enhance the growth of students' potential and to change the beliefs of teachers and encourage them to recognize and develop talents in those youth who are normally overlooked for gifted programs. As the result of this initiative, teachers became much more understanding of the higher expectations of their students. Classrooms changed with the addition of many more learning tools. The implementation of this program was not easy given the challenges of time, resources and mixed interest by the teachers' and administrators.' There were also a variety of different initiatives occurring at any one time, but most of the teachers were favorable about project-based learning at the end of its first year of implementation. teachers saw high levels of engagement during project-based learning activities. Teachers were more aware of the students' ability to focus on learning when having meaningful experiences that were connected to their personal interests. In brief, the students "acted more gifted" by assuming some of the traits educators normally use to identify youth for gifted programs, such as demonstrating curiosity by asking questions, remaining interested and involved over time, acquiring new knowledge quickly, solving problems creatively, and becoming self-motivated to gain more learning and go into greater depth on subjects of interest (Hertzog, 2005).
A number of school systems are thinking out of the box when developing their programs for gifted youth. The Gifted Kids Network, http://www.giftedkidsnetwork.com/, is a Web-based, supplemental, gifted and talented programming model that includes standards-based classes, enrichment clusters, and affective programming (Ekstein, 2009). The network is designed to encourage students to think critically and creatively, question information presented to them, and thoughtfully integrate subjects covered into their daily lives. Socratic-style discussion forums, PowerPoint presentations, group work, and individual response blogs are used to give students the opportunity to express themselves and engage with the content. The network also exposes students to technology tools that can enhance their creativity, organization, and productivity. There are seven main goals for students in the program, which were adapted from Florida's Framework for Gifted Learners (Florida Department of Education, 2007): Students will be able to: 1) critically examine the complexity of knowledge and information; 2) ask and assess multifaceted questions in a variety of fields and disciplines; 3) conduct thoughtful research; 4) think creatively and critically to identify and suggest possible solutions to real-world problems; 5) assume leadership and participatory roles in group learning situations; and 6) produce a variety of authentic projects using 21st-century tools that demonstrate understanding in multiple fields and disciplines. The network's structure is based on Ng and Nicholas (2007), who suggested using online technologies to engage gifted students, such as online management systems, e-mail, and Web-based resources. Software applications and tools for the network include wikis, blogs, podcasting, Voicethread, and video creation software that enable teachers and students to create multimedia projects. Academic-based online social networking offers a way to connect gifted students in rural communities with intellectual peers and acquire the skills of social networking in a safe environment. With the combination of social networking and multimedia lessons created around advanced content, this network offers a gifted program that teaches meaningful curriculum and 21st-century skills and encourages critical thinking and creativity (Eckstein, 2009).
Another innovative idea is using the abilities and interests of gifted children in service learning opportunities (Terry & Bohnenberger, J.E., 2004; Terry, 2008). According to Roeper (1992), who was long involved in the education process of exceptional students, an opportunity in which students are kept from developing feelings of being outsiders or separated from the world should be established when planning programs for gifted students. She suggested that school systems establish an environment that maintains the uniqueness of youth while "accepting their integration into the larger global ambience, just as the heart is a distinct organ within the body" (p. 52), since societal attitudes and educational processes separate youth from their world. Cooperation, she stressed, is needed in order for children to be fully integrated into the community. "Only if we can bring about the change in attitude will we save our globe and create the safe world our children are entitled to inherit" (Roeper, 1992, p. 93). Renzulli (2007) noted that gifted young people must be given opportunities, resources, and encouragement for firsthand investigative or creative experiences in their specific areas of interest. He suggested that approaches that are utilized to build giftedness in youth need to pay as much attention to the co-cognitive conditions of development, such as optimism, courage, sensitivity to human concerns, physical/mental energy, and vision/sense of destiny, as that presently given to cognitive development. According to Terry (2005), advanced levels of service-learning provide gifted students with situations where they can exhibit a great deal of creativity, responsibility, reflective judgment, self-knowledge, empathy for people, and individuality of thought and behavior, as well as other self-actualization traits. Service-learning has the ability of helping gifted students attain their creative optimum as they look for new answers to society's complex challenges, and it is proven to be an effective, differentiated curriculum for instruction for the gifted students and to help them reach toward higher levels of attainment (Terry, 2005).
In the coming years, school systems are going to face ever-growing challenges when it comes to education, let alone programs such as those for the gifted and talented. They will need governmental and education leadership and interest along with financial support, an emphasis on high-quality teacher training in college and in the schools, teacher leadership training programs, and increased emphasis on research to base identification of students and develop programming practices that meet the needs of all students, not just a select few. (Moon, & Dixon, 2006).
According to Renzulli (2007), research is going to play an important role in the area of gifted program. One thing that must be studied at greater length is the effectiveness of different delivery systems for various populations. It has been difficult getting additional gifted programs into communities with at-risk students, and at times educators have taken programs into these schools that are structured on models of learning and gifted program practices that are successful in typical middle class suburban communities. Some commonalities exist in all learning, but also different kinds of environmental situations influence education. It is not possible to take a program out of an affluent suburb and just use it as is at a hardcore urban area or a rural poor area for developing high performance in potentially gifted kids. Studies need to be led to examine the cultural strengths, environmental and family influences, and social and emotional factors that will help educators and other gifted and talented program professionals how to best meet the needs of diverse populations.
It is also important, according to Renzulli (2007) to look at the intangible characteristics that make people successful and be able to accomplish and be innovative and see how these traits can be developed in young people. He calls these factors as "those things that are left over after everything explainable has been explained." It is important to learn more about why young people with excellent test scores, high grade point averages, and the…