Revisiting the silent movie era.
Inventing the greatest, yet simplest, items to make life easier.
Finding a piece of history that otherwise would go undiscovered.
Those are just a few of the things kids in the Frazee-Vergas School District — and some surrounding districts as well — are doing this year thanks to a new program in the district.
The select students taking part in these extra adventures are those that are a part of the Gifted and Talented program.
“It’s geared towards kids who are the higher end of testing,” Instructor Rex Kingsbury said. Or for those who show a high-end cognitive skill in a certain field, he added.
Kingsbury works one day a week in Frazee, one day a week in New York Mills and three days a week in Perham with the Gifted and Talented program.
The program is funded through the state, and “if you don’t use the money, you’re missing out,” Kingsbury said.
He has been teaching various grades since 1979, has been an assistant principal and principal, too, and now has been with the Gifted and Talented program for last few years.
“I’d like to go out with this,” he said of retiring in a few years.
Students in the Gifted and Talented program are chosen through teacher recommendations. In Frazee, there is a group of students in seventh and eighth grades and one more group in the elementary (3-6) that take part in the class.
They get about 50 minutes a week with Kingsbury to work on the projects. There are about 12-15 kids in each unit. Some are repeats and some only do particular units.
“I chose my kids definitely by their scores on individual tests, but also by their independence in learning, their curiosity, and their desire for more,” third grade teacher Michelle Oswald said. “It is a program for learners who are very driven and self-motivated.”
She said that she recommends students for each unit, and some have been repeat participants.
“The topic plays a part on who I put into each unit. I try to (match) interest levels of my students with the topic.”
Fourth grade teacher Dustin Geiser said that each unit is designed to apply different learning styles, and that is how he determines what students should be involved in that particular unit.
“If we have a kid who has a strength in the area that Mr. Kingsbury will be teaching, we bring them to our grade level team and choose from there,” he said. “These programs allow the kids to really go above and beyond. They deserved to be challenged and are challenged in this class.”
The Gifted and Talented program is broken into different units. They just finished up the silent movie section, culminating with a screening of the movies they produced. The students wrote, performed, edited and completely created the movies. They then showed the movies to fellow classmates and held a night for parents and family to come watch the productions.
“The kids wrote it all. Maybe steering a little (from him), but they really took the bull by the horns,” Kingsbury said.
The Frazee students produced nine silent films.
“It’s fun. All the kids wanted to do it,” he said.
The unit the group is in the middle of now is inventions. Kingsbury said it’s amazing what kids can come up with for inventions.
One kid in a different school invented the sucker saver. He simply took a plastic Easter egg, drilled a hole in the end and it’s now a sucker saver to put your sucker in when you’re not quite finished with it but want to save it. Simply put the stick of the sucker through the drilled hole and keep the sucker portion covered in the plastic egg.
Another student invented a rake sweeper. When leaves get caught in the rake, you can simply move a lever on the rake and the leaves will be pushed off the end of the rake.
At the end of the inventions unit, they will have an Invention Convention Fair for others to see their inventions as well.
He’s also had kids that invented a laundry basket with wheels (similar to the suitcase concept), recycling baskets that empty from the bottom so you don’t have to lift them and garbage cans with built in bag dispensers.
“Sometimes you think you have to have some behemoth thing. Take the simple things,” he said.
This spring, students will be working on history. The older group of kids will be going to a cemetery and learning how to trace family roots.
The younger kids, since it might not be as age-appropriate to bring them to a cemetery, will be working more with archeology. They will be going to old buildings downtown and finding out about life long ago — using metal detectors and other equipment to find old coins, jewelry or other treasures.
Kingsbury said he has done that with students in the past and it’s amazing how many kids then asked for metal detectors for Christmas.
Another class Kingsbury has taught through the Gifted and Talented program is digital photography, and students then hosted a gallery show.
“I try and keep it interesting and fun,” Kingsbury said. “It’s very fun, very hands-on.”
“I show them the big idea and they run with it.”
Oswald said that she has gotten very positive feedback from both her students and their parents.
“Students are very excited to go and look forward to Wednesday’s class. They ask about it often with great anticipation,” she said.
Not only does she see it from a teacher’s perspective, she also gets to see it from a parent’s perspective. Oswald’s daughter, Paige, is a part of the Gifted and Talented program.
“She has also been very excited in the program. Mr. Kingsbury allows the groups to choose topics that are at high interest level to them and the learning is theirs,” she said.
Paige has been involved in the silent movie unit and now the inventions.
“As a parent, I am thrilled about the opportunity for my child,” Oswald said. “As an educator, I know that it is hard to challenge those at the top because so much commitment is spent with your students at grade level or below.
“So much time is put on testing and scores we have to lose sight of some of the special activities we may have done in the past in our classrooms.”
In a letter to Frazee-Vergas teachers, Kingsbury asked them to recommend students who are creative thinkers, self-starters and finishers, students who may be mechanically inclined and students who show interest in science and history for the inventions unit.
But, he said, those are traits, especially creative and motivated, that students should possess for all units.
“The Gifted and Talented Program is in place to provide an extra outlet for children that exhibit these traits, just as there are other programs in place to provide services to students with other needs, so please keep this in mind during your selection process,” he said.
“I think that this program is one of the biggest additions that we have made to Frazee Schools in the last five years,” Geiser said. “These kids deserve recognition in their strengths. Mr. Kingsbury does a terrific job including and opening it up to all students.”
And those students have plenty of good things to say about the program too.
“The class is really fun,” third-grader Katelyn Schaefer said.
She has participated in both classes and said it was fun to make the movies and be able to move to different parts of the school to make them.
“You get to hang out with your friends and we got to do different things than in the classroom,” she said.
“Mr. Kingsbury gave us great ideas for making inventions,” third-grader George Flynn said.
“I am inventing a device you put in your pocket so if you put things in your pocket, you can put them inside this. That way your pocket won’t get sticky or gross. I hope a lot of people will use my invention. It will work and it’s simple. I will share it with my family.”
Third-grader — and budding movie star — Nathan Johannsen said he likes the Gifted and Talented program and making the silent movies because “it was fun taping the films and being in them. It was fun seeing myself in the movie.”
“It was exciting to be in the movies and coming up with all the ideas. It didn’t seem like work we normally do in school. Mr. Kingsbury rocks,” said Katie Wilkowski, a third-grader.
Follow Pippi Mayfield on Twitter at @PippiMayfield.