Accepting the Challenge: The Highly Gifted Program

Audrey Hunt, Reporter

Since 2007, West Anchorage High School has been the only school in the Anchorage School District to offer the rigorous Highly Gifted Program to students who choose to take academically advanced classes and be exposed to a unique type of curriculum.

Judy Friar is the counselor for the Highly Gifted (HG) Program and has been coordinating for West’s and Romig’s HG students for the past 11 years. “West is the only continuation of the HG program, and it’s a little bit more rigorous to get into it,” says Friar. West has four teachers for the HG program: Brian Malta for ninth grade English; Rachel Kittoe for tenth grade English; Brian Goudreau for ninth grade Biology; and Stephen Rosser for ninth grade Social Studies. The HG classes merge with the International Baccalaureate/Advanced Placement classes after 10th grade.

The main purpose of the HG program is to allow gifted students to show their full potential academically while in high school. Many kids in high school are just trying to get through as quickly as possible and don’t think much about excelling exceptionally, however, HG students are typically the opposite. “For HG kids in particular, they try to strive to be high level all the way across the board,” says Friar.

What makes HG students different from regular ed students? “Their personal desire to want to learn and to explore things on their own is much greater than a traditional ed student,” Malta says.

Malta has been teaching at West for three years and taught at Romig Middle School in their HG program for two years. His main focus in his HG class include close reading and how to use writing devices. “Malta is funny and entertaining, but he still pushed me to be my best,” says Rachel Heimke, a tenth grader in the HG program. “Students who come out of my class learn how to prioritize time; time management is huge,” says Malta.

Students enrolled in the program typically receive a heavy homework load on a daily basis. “I generally get two and a half hours a night,” says Heimke. To qualify for the HG program, students must obtain a 3.6 GPA or higher, and have qualifying test scores in both reading comprehension and mathematics.

One reason students may join the HG program is from the push of their parents wanting them to succeed in school academically and learn curriculum at an advanced level. Heimke says, “It’s partially my parents and partially [me] wanting to be successful.”

The HG program is here to allow students to be challenged and give them enriched classes to prepare them for college. “I don’t have to encourage these kids to go to college, they come in with that expectation,” says Friar.