Education
12:13 pm
Tue December 10, 2013

McCracken County School District Tests for Talent

McCracken County elementary students are realizing they are much more talented than they ever thought thanks to a new effort to screen every fourth grader for musical high aptitude.

Dr. Bradley Almquist, Murray State University Director of Choral Activities, teaches students songs and to play instruments, all the while developing an innate ability.

"Who can hear that inside their head?" Almquist asked a group of students at Concord Elementary School.

The ability to hear what you see and write what you hear is audiation - or literacy building.

One of these students learning to do this is Ariana Klope, a nine-year-old who wants to be a zookeeper when she grows up.

"I can kind of hear it in my head, but it's almost like I see it and I know what it is. It's kind of weird how you can do that," Klope said.

This method of language development, in this case, musical language, is akin to how we learn to speak from our parents - by imitating the sounds in our environment. Only about 10 percent of the world-wide population posses a high aptitude for audiation. 

Almquist explains how he identified his students.

"The child comes in and I sing a tonal pattern to them. It might be just, 'Do do do do do.' The child repeats that. If the child repeats it and all five of the tonal patterns repeats it immediately without and rehearsal, without any question, that indicates there is more of a high aptitude," Almquist said. "What we're really measuring is the ability for that ear to perceive and process."

He repeats the process for each one of the 550 McCracken County fourth graders. 

Gifted and Talented Program Coordinator Tina Hayes said this concept ensures no students fall through the cracks. It's the first time students have been tested this way in McCracken County. She unaware of any other school districts using this method. McCracken County also screens for high aptitude in visual arts in this way.

Before, students had to audition, which meant only kids with transportation and interest were tested. This new program eliminates all barriers for students with musical talent and is catching some parents by surprise.

"It was really interesting last year, when they received the letter home asking if they would participate their parents were shocked and thought we had the wrong child because they never realized that the child had this ability," Hayes said.

Thanks to this program Hayes said, some kids are changing their outlook on school.

"This was that light bulb for them," she said. "The mom reported to me that it was no longer a chore to get them up. And they had not necessarily been seen by their peers as leaders. And so now all of a sudden it's like, everyone recognizes this gift that they have, and they became confident in that gift and they rose to the top."

To date about 100 students are studying with Dr. Almquist. Those kids will have the option of continuing their musical path with orchestra next year. 

And, while audiation isn't a word nine-year-old Ariana Klope even remembers, she's learning so many other things. 

"It's really fun. I like using the percussion instruments because I play drums at my dad's house. A lot," she said.

By the end of this school year, Dr. Almquist will see to it that Ariana can read, write and sing twelve different rhythm and tonal patterns. Even if she does want to be a zookeeper when she grows up.