TAG partnership offers new opportunities for children in the area

As MSUM prepares for the boom of the new fall semester, Julia Poplin and Sean Brandenburg have just wrapped up their biggest project for the summer.

This year, MSUM—in collaboration with the North Dakota Association of Gifted Children (NDAGC)—facilitated an exclusive opportunity for exceptional learners. The College for Kids and Teens (CFKT) program, an ongoing and established success on MSUM’s campus for the last 23 years, expanded this summer to include four new MSUM x TAG courses. These four project-based learning experiences were designed to engage the minds of talented and gifted learners and promote a unique emphasis in student-directed learning.

Sean Brandenburg, the Youth Outreach Coordinator for MSUM, runs and manages the CFKT program throughout June and July. This summer program focuses on explorative and fun STEAM courses for K-12 students, including American Sign Language, robotics and computer programming, pottery, and more. Brandenburg and AVP Robert Nava, who also serves as the Dean of Graduate Studies at MSUM, worked this year to continue this program’s support of diverse student populations and unique student learning needs.

Julia Poplin, a professor in the School of Teaching and Learning, joined the project to create an enhanced learning opportunity for community students, but also a unique teaching opportunity for MSUM’s preservice teachers. Poplin and her senior secondary/K-12 teacher candidates worked together during their summer course (ED 448, Reading Study Skills in the Content Areas) to design four specialized courses for TAG students.

“Our MSUM students were able to meet the requirement for their field hours through this awesome opportunity to design and teach their own course,” says Poplin. “As interdisciplinary teams, our preservice teachers were tasked to take a project-based approach in order to co-design research projects with our K-12 students.”

The MSUM x TAG program consisted of four, week-long courses, each built through an inquiry-based model: “Mystery in History”; “Analytical Thinking”; “Technology Wizardry,” and “Multimedia Literacy.” The theme for each course was determined through survey research in the Fargo-Moorhead community, as Brandenburg and Poplin–in collaboration with the NDAGC–wanted to ensure that the needs and the interests of the community were at the forefront of the program.

“Students are very aware of what they want to learn, and how they learn best,” says Poplin. “We want to promote that students are experts in their own learning and involve them as experts and enthusiasts of their interests. Watching that evolve through this program was super rewarding for us as educators.”

The aim of the CFKT program, and the MSUM x TAG extension, is to capitalize on twenty-first-century understandings of learning and skill-building. Talented and gifted learners—and exceptional learners of all varieties—require that we adjust our teaching to meet the learning needs of students. These courses gave preservice teachers the chance to practice this by capitalizing on each learner's special qualities and interests.

The MSUM x TAG program understands that talented and gifted learners are not only those who see success in traditional academic areas, such as math or English. These learners have exceptional abilities in a variety of areas, including creativity, leadership, communication, in addition to scholarship. To that end, the program promotes the mission of CFKT, which is to include every child who wants to learn.

“We have a diverse and equitable lens for this program,” says Poplin. “We want learners to be directed through these courses by their own background and to know that their experiences are valid and should be part of their learning.”

With this in mind, Brandenburg and Poplin continue to work and grow the MSUM x TAG program to include learners from across the tri-state area. This program focuses on creating unimpeded access to college resources for K-12 students and is unique in its celebration of exceptional learners.

“Scholarships are a key to making this access possible,” says Brandenburg. The Youth Scholarship Program funds and supports scholastic opportunities on MSUM’s campus with the goal of facilitating an equal playing field for all learners. Brandenburg has secured two grants this summer to make it possible for each and every kid to join the program.

“We haven’t had to say no to anyone,” says Brandenburg. “We so appreciate the FM Area Foundation and The Lake Region Arts Council for helping us welcome so many kids to our campus this summer.”

With the support and enthusiasm they have received from the community, Brandenburg and Poplin are continuing to implement the MSUM x TAG program beyond the CFKT summer initiative, with the hopes of implementing year-round opportunities for MSUM preservice teachers and our area’s exceptional learners.

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