December 2020 Focus Newsletter

Stafford County Middle School Gifted Education

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SCPS VIRTUAL Commonwealth Governor's School (CGS) Application Support Night - Thursday, December 17th at 6pm

On Thursday, December 17, 2020, the Middle School Gifted Resource teachers will host a Virtual CGS Application Support Event at 6 p.m. Please join using:

Join with Google Meet

Join by phone ‪(US) +1 617-675-4444‬ PIN: ‪927 591 733 4634‬#

Please note you MUST have a google email address or use your student's school email address to enter the virtual meeting.

Click here to access the application form. The due date for application submission is January 8, 2021.

Please note that Google Meet has a limited capacity. Families sharing one computer to attend will allow for more viewers.

If unable to attend, or if you wish to go back and review, this meeting will be recorded and posted on the SCPS Website, under the Programs/CGS tab.

SCPS IB Information Night

IB Information Night will take place virtually this year. Families may choose one session to attend (they will be identical). Both sessions will be hosted together by Theresa Gaddy (Coordinator at MVHS) and Meghan Stone (Coordinator at BPHS).

When: Thursday, December 10, 2020

Session 1: 5:30-6:30

Session 2: 7:00-8:00

Where: Google Meet- use the links below at the designated time

Session 1: 5:30-6:30:

Session 2: 7:00-8:00:

Who should attend? Families with rising 9th grade students, but of course current 6th and 7th grade students are welcome to attend to learn more. Current 9th and 10th graders may also attend if they would like to learn about taking individual IB classes.

What: Find out about how the IB Program works, if the IB Diploma is for you, how to apply and get your questions answered!


In Search of . . .

Do you know someone who participated in the Focus program in SCPS Middle Schools? We are looking to contact former students to see "where they are now" for our January Newsletter. If you were a Focus student, please use the Google Form below and share your story. If you know of former students, please share the link to the Google Form so we can hear from as many as possible. Feel free to share with teachers or parents who may be in contact with college students and graduates . . . or even still in high school! We want to hear from the Voices of Focus Past! - Hyperlink to Google Form

Understanding Giftedness with Stephenie Fellinger, Ed.D., SCPS Facilitator of K-12 Gifted Education and Secondary Programs

Developing Executive Functioning Skills in Gifted Students

Stephenie Fellinger, Ed.D.

The Center on the Developing Child (CDC) describes executive functioning and self-regulation as those individuals' skills that people depend on daily. Our young adults often struggle as they have underdeveloped executive functioning skills. To better build your foundation of understanding on how Executive Functioning works, please view the following video from CDC: How Children and Adults Can Build Core Capabilities for Life.

Gifted students' asynchronous development often reveals underdeveloped executive functioning skills. Johnny can read four grade levels ahead but can't remember to hand in his homework. Suzie starts her homework but can't stay focused on it long enough to complete the work. Neither child can regulate their emotions.

Teachers and parents can teach Executive Functioning through a variety of strategies. For example, goal setting, planning, monitoring grades, sports, yoga, music, theater, strategy games, or computer games are just a few activities that support developing executive functioning skills. The Center on the Developing Child offers parents and teachers activities to help develop these skills in our gifted children.

I recommend reading over the Executive Function Activities for Adolescents to learn more about developing these strategies. Practice these skills by embedding the strategies in your child's daily life.

Link for Activities -


"Center on the Developing Child at Harvard University"

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CLICK ON THE LINK to watch a Book Talk on - "Pay it Forward" by Catherine Ryan Hyde (2014) Young Reader Edition. Review by Mary Pruitt, Librarian, Dixon-Smith Middle School - Hyperlink Click Here
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Teen receives scholarship after act of kindness goes viral

Providing Emotional Wellness through Literary Experiences - Building Relationships

Lisa Arthur - Gifted Education Resource Teacher - Dixon-Smith Middle School

Establishing connections with middle schoolers can be challenging for parents and teachers alike. Knowing which memes, videos, entertainers, athletes, and authors are currently relatable and keeping up with the fast-paced teen language can leave adults feeling so "20th Century."

Many gifted children fully immerse themselves in novels, substituting real-time social interactions and relationships to plots and characters -- creations of imaginative writers. To some, these characters and situations become a reality, a way to confront or encounter experiences that may be out of reach. Losing oneself in a book and disengaging with others may seem enticing, especially during this time of social isolation, therefore limiting typical adolescent experiences.

As the adults, by allocating time to appreciate young adult literature, we set the stage to initiate our gifted readers into meaningful conversations by recognizing and highlighting parallel relationships. As far back as 1987, R.S. Lenkowsky promoted this practice and published in The Journal of Special Education:

I have long been a proponent of using literature to facilitate discussions with students about their issues or concerns. I believe that authentic interactions with literature contribute to overall effective growth. Such an approach is referred to as bibliotherapy, defined as the use of reading to produce affective change and to promote personality growth and development (p 21).

According to the National Children’s Book and Literacy Alliance (NBLA), many reasons exist as to why children make connections with books. If adults sample the literature available to our youth, trust builds as children recognize, “You took the time to learn something important to me.” The NBLA suggests that by understanding why children immerse themselves in literature, opportunities for meaningful conversation evolve. Some reasons for these connections include:

  • Books create warm emotional bonds between adults and children when read together.

  • Books let children try on the world before they have to go out into it.

  • Books help us to understand ourselves and the way we think.

  • Books help us open up, move beyond self-absorption, and connect to other people.

  • Books help children chart their own moral and ethical course.

  • Books entertain and offer a great escape.

  • Books are great companions that provide comfort.

As parents and educators, we wish to create environments where our students feel welcome and safe, conversing in a “judgment-free zone.” We want to communicate using supportive dialog as educators, without crossing the boundaries into what applies to trained therapists.

Initiating such conversations with our children and students should have a goal: to build trusting relationships. Dr. Thomas Herbert identifies the benefit of establishing and building this trust in how young adults manage their own perceived problems:

I can facilitate good discussions with young people about good books . . . help them draw parallels between their experiences and those of the main characters in the books . . . to listen to classroom peers as they share their feelings about personal experiences related to the focus of the lesson. Such an approach is simply an attempt to help young people understand themselves and cope with problems by providing literature relevant to their personal situations and developmental needs at appropriate times (Herbert, p 73).

Selecting appropriate and meaningful materials, facilitating relevant discussions, and following up with activities are the keys to promoting the sharing of ideas and discovering feelings.

Our students face many relevant issues; selecting a few preconditioned themes to pair with select readings can help the conversation from digressing off-topic. Focusing on specific, predetermined passages will also aid in time management. Discussion questions should be open-ended, prompting students to consider before speaking. A discussion-based questioning platform promotes Socratic style discourse where students use questioning skills to create respectful, debatable dialog while listening to thoughtful insight from peers or family members.

Selecting relevant reading material can range from picture books to complete novels. Any genre is relevant, from fantasy to nonfiction biographies of important people. Elizabeth C. Fairweather, an instructor in the Gifted Education Program at the University of South Florida, published an article focusing on the use of biographies promoting her philosophy:

Biographies of writers reveal valuable insights into their traits and writing processes . . . [and] guide students interested in improving their writing or embarking on becoming a writer . . .

Can identify the childhood experiences and activities of eminent writers that contributed to the development of their skills . . . modeling a framework for success” (p 16).

For example, selecting passages from Malala Yousafzai’s I Am Malala, followed with portions of her speech (at age 15) to the United Nations, could resonate with students who feel empathy towards an ethical situation but fear their age prohibits meaningful involvement.

Excerpts from The Diary of Anne Frank, a primary source from Europe during the 1940s and World War II, with a direct connection to the Holocaust, may captivate students who sense a lack of understanding of their ethnicity or religious practices.

Sections of a biography on Michael Phelps may connect to students who feel that the world perceives them as competent and successful, all while struggling to cope with symptoms of depression or other mental health issues.

Another suggestion, and one that fits well with our Middle School Focus thematic unit for December, is sharing the book Pay it Forward by Catherine Ryan Hyde (2014), as students may feel motivated to “fear not their age,” and instead, discover that helping others can begin at any time and without cost.

The practice of using literature to promote relationships and conversations with our gifted children can promote a sense of emotional wellness and understanding. Thomas P. Herbert, Ph.D., adds to the positives of literary support meetings by suggesting:

. . . a discussion group is formed, or a writing experience is suggested . . . but what is most important is that the teacher or counselor be prepared to listen closely to the feeling responses of the students and be prepared to support them emotionally (p 78).

Adults may want to suggest stories from their own past. Try to refrain from displaying disappointment or rejection if selections do not match the child's likes or current needs. Today’s age-appropriate issues may not resemble those of previous generations; however, wanting to be heard and understood is a constant need of this age group. Try to remember that feeling when an adult seemed to hear you ... to “get you.”

And in the eyes of these young readers, your indulgence in their literary world, concerns, ethical dilemmas, and everyday vocabulary may not just open up the doors of communication; it may also reward you the title of “GOAT!” That’s right; you may just end up being their “Greatest Of All Time.”


Fairweather, Elizabeth C. (2019). Biographies as tools for mentoring young writers

. Teaching High Potential, 16-17.

Herbert, Thomas P. (2011). Understanding the Social and Emotional Lives of Gifted

Students. Prufrock Press. Waco, TX, 73-78.

Lenkowsky, R.S. (1987). Bibliotherapy: A review and analysis of the literature. The

Journal of Special Education, 21, 123-132.

National Children’s Books and Literacy Alliance. Why Do Kids Need Books, 2020.

Retrieved November 12, 2020, from

Young Reader Selections for Emotional Wellness - Compiled by Jenny Ashby, Librarian, Shirley Heim Middle School

Click on collage, then on each title for publisher reviews. Read prior to, or along with your child or student for background knowledge of the story and characters.
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The Present - a short film

Sometimes a little kindness goes a long way
The Present - OFFICIAL
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40 Easy Pay it Forward Kindness Ideas

Scott Trotta - Gifted Education Resource Teacher - Rodney Thompson Middle School

Every act of kindness grows the spirit and strengthens the soul.

In our current environment, please use caution, wear your mask, and socially distance when considering any of the following ideas.

  1. Pay it Backward: buy coffee for the person behind you in line.
  2. Compliment the first three people you talk to today.
  3. Send a positive text message to five different people right now.
  4. Post inspirational sticky notes around your neighborhood or house.
  5. Tell someone they dropped a dollar, even though they didn’t, then give them a dollar.
  6. Donate old towels or blankets to an animal shelter or pet foster family.
  7. Say "hi" to the person next door.
  8. Surprise a neighbor with freshly baked cookies or treats!
  9. Let someone go in front of you in line who only has a few items.
  10. Leave a gas gift card at a gas pump.
  11. Organize a way to celebrate someone just for being who they are.
  12. Encounter someone in customer service who is especially kind? Take time to tell their manager.
  13. Leave unused coupons next to corresponding products in the store.
  14. Try to make sure every person in a group conversation feels included.
  15. Smile at or wave to five strangers.
  16. Set an alarm on your phone to go off at three different times during the day. In those moments, do something kind for someone else.
  17. Send a gratitude email to a teacher or classmate who deserves recognition.
  18. Practice self-kindness and spend 30 minutes doing something you love today.
  19. Instead of throwing away old stuff encourage parents to offer it for free on a community garage sale or take it to Goodwill.
  20. Write a gratitude list in the morning and again in the evening.
  21. When you hear that discouraging voice in your head, tell yourself something positive — you deserve kindness too!
  22. Return shopping carts for people at the grocery store.
  23. Buy a plant. Put it in a terracotta pot. Write positive words that describe a friend or neighbor on the pot. Give it to that friend or neighbor!
  24. Write a positive comment on your favorite blog, website, or a friend’s social media account.
  25. Organize a clean-up day in the neighborhood, at the creekside, or park.
  26. While you’re out, compliment a parent on how well-behaved their child is.
  27. Leave a kind server the biggest tip you can afford.
  28. When throwing something away, pick up any litter around, and put that in the trash, too.
  29. Put 50 paper hearts in a box. On each cutout write something that is special about your sibling or a friend. Give them the box & tell them to pull out a heart anytime they need a pick-me-up.
  30. Everyone is important. Learn the names of your school office staff, postal worker, and other people you see every day. Greet them by name. Also, say “hello” to strangers and smile. These acts of kindness are so easy, and they almost always make people smile.
  31. Write your family member a list of things you love about them.
  32. Purchase extra dog or cat food and bring it to an animal shelter.
  33. Find opportunities to give compliments. It costs nothing, takes no time, and could make someone’s entire day. Don’t just think about it. Say it.
  34. Send a ‘Thank you’ card or note to the officers at your local police or fire station.
  35. Take muffins or cookies to your local librarians.
  36. Do a chore without being reminded or asked.
  37. Leave a box of goodies in your mailbox for your mail carrier.
  38. Put your phone away while in the company of others.
  39. Email or write to a former teacher who made a difference in your life.
  40. When you hear that discouraging voice in your head, tell yourself something positive — you deserve kindness too!
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Random Acts of Emotional Kindness for our Gifted Children

Honor mindfulness - be in the moment

Encourage spontaneity

Arrange social and enrichment experiences

Remember good listening demonstrations

Openly discuss giftedness

Unconditionally love

Respect different opinions

View situations from your child's perspective

Offer space to "just be a kid"

Initiate hugs and affection

Compliment on effort rather than the end product

Engage in listening without judgment

Support individualism

Hear Our Voices

The Art of Kindness - Effects of Kindness on the Body and Mind - Published by Mayo Clinic - May 29, 2020

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Edutopia - Helping Students Read Emotions Behind a Mask

The eyes say more than most words and in our current environment of facial coverings, recognizing what our eyes are saying to children, and to adults for that matter, can make all the difference in building relationships.

Click on the link to Edutopia's video on helping children make sense of facial expressions behind masks.

Video presented by Edutopia November 5, 2020

Inside Out (2015)

Meet Riley and her emotions: Joy, Fear, Anger, Disgust, and Sadness.

This Pixar animated film from 2015 is another opportunity to make those connections with your child/student. Watch the film for yourself first, then experience it through the eyes of the child who may be experiencing many new emotions.

INSIDE OUT All Movie Clips (2015)


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Artemis Moon Pod Essay Contest

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