In the middle of lunch, a woman with purple frizzy hair and a baggy pink top stood at a table and announced the first McPherson Middle School Hunger Games.
In the middle of lunch, a woman with purple frizzy hair and a baggy pink top stood at a table and announced the first McPherson Middle School Hunger Games. A boy was chosen without complaint, but when a girl was chosen, her older sister jumped up and shouted, “I volunteer as tribute!”
This parody of “The Hunger Games” was orchestrated by sixth-grader Christopher Malaby, who was inspired by a YouTube channel called “Improv Everywhere.”
“I thought it was a fun idea,” Malaby said.
Malaby is one of several students in McPherson School District's Bullpup Scholar Program, which includes the Bullpup Scholar class, field trips and test preparations. High school students in the program also qualify for special scholarships.
The program is for talented and gifted students in the district. To qualify, students must have a 3.7 GPA or meet district college ready standards on the ACT.
In this program, students participate in projects, such as inventing and movie-making. Starting next semester, high school students will be able to develop their own projects in areas that interest them.
Paul Carver, a general education teacher who works with Bullpup Scholar kids, said several students have business ideas they want to try out, and one is putting together a sheep skeleton.
“We’ve already started to have some ideas bounce around,” Carver said.
However, students aren’t just having fun.The projects are designed to teach them skills they will use in a career setting, such as organizing events like Malaby's “Hunger Games.” Students opening a mock bakery, for example, will make a product catalogue and talk to local business owners to get tips and samples. The student putting together a sheep skeleton is interested in becoming a veterinarian.
“The one thing you have to do with gifted kids is show growth,” said Sheri Nakai, gifted student specialist. “It's not just coming together and doing a project.”
The district has several different options for above-average students. Some are identified as “gifted,” meaning teachers have recommended them as high-achieving and the students have tested into the gifted student curriculum.
Gordon Mohn, director of special education, said gifted students spend more time on individual projects based on an individual education program determined each year.
“A teacher may say, ‘My fourth-grader is ready for algebra,’ and that triggers the process,” Mohn said. “It’s the same process we use for any child who might have an exceptionality.”
Other activities, such as Bullpup Scholars, are open to students who are high achievers but don’t qualify for the gifted curriculum. Other options include Advanced Placement classes and extracurricular activities like Science Olympiad, or Destination Imagination at the elementary level.
Students who qualify for “gifted” curriculum often participate in these activities as well. Carver said this helps build a sense of cohesion between high-achieving students.
“They become part of a larger community,” Carver said.
These students aren’t taken out of general education classes, but teachers will often work with these students to create more challenging curriculum or tasks.
“You might have a worksheet time in a science class,” Carver said. “The class would get the green sheet, but the gifted students get the blue sheet, which has harder questions or goes more in-depth.”
Nakai said when students work on their projects, they often learn important skills beyond the initial project goals. In one instance, high school students wanted to invent something. After they had designed their invention, they realized they needed a 3D printer to finish it.
Nakai said she instructed them to write a grant and submit it to the McPherson Education Foundation. The students did so and ended up getting money for the printer.
“These sophomores are not just getting the printer,” Nakai said. “They had the experience of writing the grant, and that’s something they’ll be doing in the future.”