PATERSON, NJ – Sometimes, Jeslian Soto became bored in her classes at School 14 last year. She mastered the material quicker than other students and was eager to learn new things, but often had to wait for classmates to catch up.
So when her father found out that Paterson Public Schools was starting a new academy for gifted and talent students, he wanted to find out more about it.
Edson and Jeslian Soto were among more than 200 parents and students who attended a special meeting at School 28 on August 9 about the new program for fourth through eighth graders.
"I'm happy because my daughter can finally be at her level," he said.
Jeslian said she was looking forward to "meeting new people, having new friends, and learning new things."
The district has invited about 300 students to participate in the gifted program. Officials chose invitees based on their scores in the New Jersey Assessment of Skills and Knowledge tests. Students who were not invited to the program can still apply and may be accepted, depending on the availability of slots, officials said.
District official Rita Route said the gifted and talent academy likely will have two classrooms per grade, which could mean up to 44 children per grade.
The location of the academy, within School 28 in a rough section of the 1st Ward, prompted some parents to be concerned about security and transportation. But Marc Medley, who has been principal of School 28 since September, said parents need not worry.
"Do not believe the hype, do not believe anything you've heard about the neighborhood. The folks here are wonderful,’’ Medley said.
"If safety is a concern, I ask the you set it aside," he added.
The first and second floors of the school will continue to house regular students from School 28, while the Gifted & Talented Academy will be based out of the third floor of the existing building on Presidential Boulevard.
"It's not about the location, it's about the curriculum," said Route.
Under the district’s transportation policy, only students who live more than 1.5 miles from School 28 will get busing. Others will have to make their own way to the school.
"It will be determined by the Transportation Department. You will be notified [if you are eligible for busing]," she told the crowd.
Route said class sizes in the academy would be equal to or smaller than the district average, which is 22, and will depend heavily on how many students sign up for the program. "We would love to have 2 classes of each grade level," she said.
Route said she expects demand for the program to increase after the first year: "I think parents will be banging down the door to get in."
Paul McCracken, a parent of a School 25 student who enters third grade this year, said the session "helped answer of the questions."
McCracken was particularly interested in experiential learning and technology would be incorporated into the program.Officials said each classroom would be equipped with five computers as well as wireless internet access. Route said the district was looking into getting iPads for students as well.
McCracken said he was pleased with Route's answers to his questions during the presentation, especially the emphasis on iPads.
"That's what our counterparts in the suburbs have," he said.
But he still has concerns about implementation. "I'm glad the building has wireless. Will students have access to it and will it be a distraction?" McCracken said.
McCracken said he was still deciding whether or not to apply to the program next year when his daughter would be eligible. He said the key difference was that the gifted & talented academy would emphasize a different curriculum that is more "accelerated and compacted."
Route said the district hoped to let applicants know by Fri., Aug. 17 whether they will be accepted.