Giving Students Permission to Dream - Steve Barkley

Giving Students Permission to Dream

 Julie B. Martin, Coordinator of Gifted and Talented in Frisco ISD, Texas provides a guest blog that highlights what I believe we need to make happen for all students. I encourage you to enjoy and dream of the possibilities.

​Ashley Nguyen, now a student at The University of Texas, maximized the opportunity Frisco ISD offers gifted and advanced students through a rigorous elective known as ISM, or the Independent Study & Mentorship Program.  During her junior year, Ashley studied pediatric cardiothoracic surgery with the help of her mentor, Dr. Kristine Guleserian.*

Spend a few minutes with Ashley and Dr. Guleserian, and you will agree that these are two remarkable women – Ashley for pursing such a cognitive, specialized field at the age of 17 and Dr. G, a busy heart surgeon, for saying yes to this teenager who “cold called” her for an informational interview.

And that’s only the beginning of this incredible story.

Ashley learned a great deal about congenital heart defects in both infants and adults during her first ISM year.  During her senior year, she studied the humanitarian side of medicine and completed her ISM journey with her Heart-for-a-Heart campaign.  Partnering with The HeartGift Foundation, Ashley set out to raise $15,000 to help pay for a child’s heart surgery.  Ashley created a blog**, organized fundraisers at her school, spoke to parent and community groups, and presented at corporate meetings to garner corporate sponsorships.  She did get a matching corporate sponsorship and by the end of campaign, Ashley raised approximately $30,000 – almost enough to pay her share of the expenses for two children to have congenital heart defects repaired here in the US.

For her hard work, Ashley got to meet Eva when she arrived at the airport from Honduras, play with her pre-surgery, observe Dr. Guleserian repair Eva’s heart in the OR, and visit Eva at her host family’s home as she recovered.  And she did this as a student in ISM.

Read Ashley’s and Eva’s story and link to WFAA Channel 8’s news stories:

I can only imagine the things Ashley learned because she was given wings!   No standardized test will EVER measure the self-confidence Ashley gained through her ISM experience.   She is now a polished, articulate presenter who will forever be able to speak publicly about her ideas. Presentation is an integral part of our ISM curriculum because this is an important life skill.

Another powerful aspect to ISM is that it helps our brightest students figure out what they want to be when they grow up.  In nearly 20 years of working with gifted students, I have found that they really stress about their college major and career. All students stress about their future, but I believe this stress is particularly significant for gifted students – a stress that gains momentum and weight as they complete college applications. For some, it’s almost paralyzing.  Generally speaking, these students have figured out the game of school.  They make good grades, and they want to be successful in college… but they don’t know in what.

ISM helps some figure out how to turn their passion into a career.  Take my student who loves roller coasters. He and another ISM student built a real, wooden roller coaster (that I got to ride!) in his back yard.  Not only did they build the structure, they also obtained donations for materials, had to petition the city to build a structure higher than Nathan’s mother’s fence, built “pools” in which to soak the wood (so it would bend), and learned to weld. Nathan is nearly finished with his engineering degree and has had several paid internships at engineering firms.  For Nathan (and for me as his teacher!), ISM was quite a ride.  🙂

ISM also helps students fine tune their talents.  Students who love sports explore sports journalism, sports marketing, injury recovery, coaching, sports photography, and franchise management.  Students who love animals study non-profit management, marine biology, or veterinary medicine. Students who think they want to be a doctor get to research particular fields. Students who excel in math use ISM to study various careers that would maximize their talents and might also be work they enjoy.

ISM Project Examples

Courtney Brown, now a senior at Oklahoma State University, said about ISM, “If you have an EPIC mindset, you can accomplish EPIC things.”  Here are some epic examples – and I could list many, many more:

Tori spent hours researching, drafting, creating her “Science and Technology: Then to Now” travelling display.  She used her love of art and science to create a museum style presentation including a brief history of medicine and the latest information in genetics, stem cells/3d printing, and radiology.  Interactive components including antique medicines, artwork, and magazines aided Tori in being able to teach other students about the various elements she learned while conducting extensive research on contemporary medicine.

Luke completed extensive research to determine the best city in which to open a new Tiffany and Co.  Once New Orleans was determined as the target city, Luke found a mall close to the French Quarter that had leasing space suitable for the store.  Luke then designed the entire layout of the store, and his idea was shared with the corporate office.  One year later, Tiffany and Co. actually opened a store in New Orleans based on Luke’s research and recommendation.

Jeff created and programmed a sensor that can be installed on traffic lights.  When there is a flashing yellow turn signal, the sensor will light up if there is oncoming traffic that would prevent a safe turn.  The city of Frisco allowed Jeff to install and test his product at a busy intersection here in Frisco.

ISM Course Description

Frisco ISD’s Independent Study and Mentorship program is a challenging course for which students must apply, interview, and be recommended during their junior and/or senior year. Gifted and high achieving students focus their topic of study on a field or career of their choice. They develop a research portfolio that has a collection of resources including interviews and observations with people who work in their chosen field or topic of study. Students work on time management, communication, research, goal setting, various soft skills, and presentation skills.  (video description of program)

During the spring semester, students work with mentors at their mentor’s business to gain “real world” experience and also to create an advanced and original product related to their topic. Students give progressively longer speech presentations and will give a formal presentation of their product and mentorship in May. Students leave the ISM experience knowing more about their chosen profession and whether or not that profession is the life and career path they desire to choose as they prepare to enter college.

With topics ranging from engineering to film production and creative writing, these high school students are involved in some amazing projects, building roller coaster, making prosthetic legs, and producing films.

The “EPIC” possibilities are endless, and it is truly inspiring to see what high school students are able to accomplish when they are given academic freedom, permission to dream and dream BIG, and to be creative!  Ashley literally saved a little girl’s life while enriching the lives of all of us here in north Texas who got to have front row seats as this incredible story unfolded.

ISM students describe this program as “life-changing” or “a game-changer,” and it really is!  But ISM is also hard.  Really, really hard.  As I often say, it’s not a course for the faint of heart because it takes grit, a teachable spirit, and a willingness to try, fail, and try again.   It’s what school should be, though … and can be again if teachers and administrators are willing to create the proverbial “classroom without walls” for kids.

*Dr. Guleserian serves as an attending cardiothoracic surgeon and the surgical director of pediatric cardiac transplantation at the Children’s Medical Center of Dallas. She is also an associate professor at UT Southwestern Medical School and the surgical director of adult congenital heart surgery.

** Ashley’s Blog








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