Dominican’s gifted program challenges those who love to learn
Students in Dominican University's Gifted and Talented Program prepare to present a project during camp in River Forest this summer. | Photo courtesy of Janie Wu/Dominican University.
Updated: September 17, 2012 12:47PM
RIVER FOREST — Although Dominican University is a college campus, during the summer months, it is the home of the Summer Gifted and Talented Program.
The program, held at Dominican since the 1970s, challenges exceptional students during four weeks in June and July.
“The mission has always been to provide a learning opportunity for gifted and talented students,” said program director Janie Wu. “We bring them to a place where they recognize and appreciate that they are capable of operating at a higher level.”
The students have abilities the need to be actively developed. “It’s a gift, not a given,” Wu noted.
Attendees come from all over the Chicagoland area, though most commute from the western suburbs, including River Forest and Oak Park.
“Occasionally, we have out-of-state students who attend the program,” Wu said. “They typically have a relative that lives within the area who is familiar with Dominican’s offerings. In fact, last summer we had a student attend our program from Louisiana. He was visiting his grandmother who encouraged him to attend our program after his mother’s own success in the program as a child.”
There are about 130 students enrolled in the entire program each week, so there were 10 students in an average class size. The teachers, likewise, come from all over the Chicagoland region.
The class day begins at 9:30 a.m. There is a daily lunch as well as recess and PE classes to provide a physical break from classroom instruction. The class day ends at 3 p.m. Students are enrolled for one class the entire week, and teachers have access to state-of-the-art computer labs specifically reserved for Summer Gifted and Talented students to further the learning experience.
Of course, students must be selected to attend the program.
“We identify gifted and talented by standardized tests scores or admissions portfolios which include teacher recommendations,” Wu said. “We recognize that gifted and talented can be defined and identified in more than one discrete measure. When you deal with exceptional children, you often find yourself in the business of making exceptions.”
Evan Dunbar, 12, a sixth-grade student at Brookpark in LaGrange Park had a remarkable story.
“During his Environmental Science class, Evan told us that he aspires to be a mushroom scientist,” Wu said.
Dunbar is currently a member of the Illinois Ecological Association that meets once a month at the North Park Village Nature Center. He is the youngest member of the club, but Dunbar insists that all of the members treat him like he’s an adult. He is hoping to teach a class on mushrooms at the Chicago Botanical Gardens’ mushroom show that is aimed toward kids.
“I became interested in mushrooms when I was very young,” he said. “The interest grew on me. Now people I know give me a lot of books on them.”
Dunbar also credits his parents for helping him ignite his interest in mushrooms.
“They got me many books and paid for my membership,” Dunbar said. “We sometimes go searching for mushrooms in the forest. We share recipes with mushrooms.”
Dunbar has been enrolled in the gifted program at Dominican for two years. At Brookpark, he is in advanced reading and math.
“This gifted program is a fantastic opportunity for students and teachers alike,” Wu said. “We’re talking about a community who enjoys the art of learning. For us, it’s not a punishment. On the contrary, we are rewarded by inspired minds and amazing possibilities.”