Gadsden Elementary School District #32

From Wild West to Nation's Best!!!

Middle School Students Impressive Performance on John Hopkins' Test

[Baltimore, MD, May 20011] San Luis, Arizona, pop. 21,500, is an arid Arizona town,
eight minutes from the US‐Mexican border, where townspeople refer to the nearby Wild West
outpost of Yuma as ‘the big city.’
It’s also a hub of academic talent.
That new reputation is owed to a standout performance achieved by a large number of
6th, 7th, and 8th grade students from two local schools, who took the ACT, a well known college
admissions test, as part of the national talent search run by The Johns Hopkins University
Center for Talented Youth.
With help and encouragement from district educators and parents, about 286 seventh
and eighth graders signed up for the process of taking a test pitched well above‐grade‐level for
students their age. Such a test can give better information about a gifted students’ math and
reading abilities.
Of that group, 146 students qualified for CTY’s Summer and online courses for
academically talented students. Additionally, out of 40 sixth grade Talent Search recruits, 20
qualified on a similar test for CTY programs.
“What’s really unusual in San Luis is, first, the large number of students from both
schools that joined our talent search,” said Dr. Lea Ybarra, the Center’s executive director,
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adding that schools usually encourage just a small fraction of the school’s population to test.
“Also striking is that so many students qualified. We often encounter qualifying rates of ten
percent or less, so to see a qualifying rate of about fifty percent is remarkable.”
How did this happen?
According to Dinorah Olmos, the CTY senior staff person who nurtured the San Luis
connection, enthusiasm bubbled up from the community. “I really admire the way the
community came out to help the students,” Olmos said.
Eight minutes from the US‐Mexico border, San Luis has a school population where afterschool
groups such as the spirit squad listen first to directions in English, then in Spanish. Out
and about, a visitor’s cell phone keeps routing to Mexican phone service. Border agent checkpoint
stops are routine.
But when CTY staff traveled from Baltimore for a school information meeting to this
community that counted 89% of its citizens as Latino in the 2000 census, it wasn’t just the
parents who showed up— teachers and local administrators also attended the bilingual
When it became clear what the academic challenge would be, teachers volunteered
their afternoons from September through December to focus students on math and reading
achievement, and to model what school teamwork could accomplish.
It all culminated on the December 2010 day when the students arrived to take the ACT‐‐
the college‐admissions test that most students don’t see until 11th or 12th grade—that CTY
administers on the principle that above‐grade‐level tests can better reveal advanced academic
The school took to heart the words of President Obama in his January 2011 State of the
Union address, when he said that Americans should celebrate the winners of the science fair
more than the winners of the Super Bowl. Upon arrival to the school at 7 AM, the students
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who would test that day were met with an honor guard of cheerleaders outside cheering them
forward, and then a spirit rally inside the school to psyche them up.
It worked.
Having identified these students, the Johns Hopkins Center is putting up scholarships and
aid for 150 of the district’s qualifiers to attend a three‐week CTY residential summer academic
program. There, the San Luis students will take an intensive academic course while they live
and learn with other academically talented young people in CTY’s summer melting pot
experience. Combined, the district’s students are receiving scholarships and aid exceeding
It’s not the only thing Gadsden Elementary School District, a feeder to the Yuma area
schools, has going for it. It maintains a partnership with a local university. Their middle school
marching band competed at Disneyland. A fifth grade team competed in the Odyssey of the
Mind World Level championship in Michigan.
Added to those honors now is the performance of so many of the district’s middle
school students in qualifying for CTY, one of the most selective national gifted programs. It’s
an achievement that any school anywhere would be proud to own—and one finds general
agreement that the district’s top middle school students are branding this region of western
lore and legend on the national education map.
There will be a ceremony to honor all the students who participated in the Johns
Hopkins 2011 Talent Search as well to recognize students who received qualifying scores and
top scores on Friday, May 20th, 2011 at the Southwest Junior High School in San Luis, Arizona.