FRISCO - Once he gave the middle school students a bit of the back story about what they were about to see, Chris Gabrels sank down into character and the mood of the room turned solemn.The Summit High School junior's voice grew older. He motioned like he was digging. And for the next few minutes, he performed a dramatic interpretation of Scaramouche Jones, a script by Justin Butcher about the life of an albino clown born to a gypsy who is later forced to be a gravedigger at Auschwitz.
It was a glimpse into the piece Chris performs while competing throughout the state as part of the Summit Speech and Debate Team. He shared it Monday during the first Realizing Exceptional Attributes in Children (REACH) Resource Day for gifted Summit Middle School language arts students.The purpose of this program that took place at the Summit County Community and Senior Center was to give the middle schoolers a chance to interact with others who share their strengths and to be introduced to National Forensic League Speech and Debate activities, said Julie Fishman, International Baccalaureate Middle Years Programme and REACH coordinator. It was the first event held for REACH, a program that would traditionally be called gifted and talented, she added."In the big picture, we want these kids to always feel excited about learning ... and that their assets and talents are something they want to explore," Fishman said. At the middle school "it is not cool to stand out because you're too smart," explained Fishman. So, by implementing the REACH program, gifted students will have a chance to connect and work with like-minded peers, she said. "The research says the kids who have a setting like this from time to time feel good and get excited about learning," Fishman said.
Last year, a vision committee of teachers, parents and students began formulating the gifted program for the middle school. Monday, 28 sixth- through eighth-graders participated in the event, some who had also been part of the Summit County Academically Challenging Extension (ACE) gifted and talented program when they were in elementary school and others who were recommended by their middle school teachers. Throughout the day, they worked on impromptu speaking, acting interpretation, value debate and extemporaneous speaking with high school speech and debate team members and coaches and community volunteers. The students lit up as they learned techniques and participated in lively exercises."I'm happy with the way it's starting to evolve and develop because it's going to serve a lot of kids," Fishman said about the REACH program that will continue to expand. In spring, they are planning on holding a similar event with a math and science focus.Also, starting next semester, a junior level speech and debate team, which is open to any interested student, will begin at SMS - something that may be the next step for some of the those who attended Monday's event.Eighth-grader Drew Petersen was one of those who may take up speech and debate in the future.
"Today was really good because we were exposed to areas we could pursue ... It expands the opportunities with language arts," said Drew, who learned about value debate and extemporaneous speaking.Lory Pounder can be reached at (970) 668-4628, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.