Desert Star

Avondale Elementary School District’s Desert Star School officially became a gifted-focused campus this year with the help of its new program Project Y.E.S. (Avondale Elementary School District/Submitted)

Avondale Elementary School District’s Desert Star School officially became a gifted-focused campus this year. 

Since the start of the academic year, the preschool through eighth grade campus has led a new vision with Project Y.E.S., short for young inspired scholars. The program encourages students to believe in themselves and work toward goals and their dreams. 

Hard work within the program is the key, said Jason McIntosh, Desert Star’s gifted coordinator.

Starting with kindergartners through middle school, all students participate in talent development and building thinking and problem-solving skills within their daily curriculum.

“The goal is to help students become scholars and experts in the field of study and develop critical thinking,” McIntosh said.

“It’s a pullout program in third to eighth grade. I’m able to pull those students who are identified as gifted twice a week, but we also have incorporated a guest program, so a student who is high achieving, not necessarily in the gifted range, if their teacher feels that they’re ready for more of a challenge and they’ve mastered the regular curriculum, then they can also join us twice a week as well.”

For the younger students, McIntosh visits classrooms and shares critical thinking lessons. 

Since the launch of the program, Desert Star has more than doubled the number of gifted students on campus. 

“We made a concerted effort to identify more students, but I also get to see their progress from the beginning of the year until now, and they are taking more ownership of their own learning,” McIntosh said. 

McIntosh, as well as Project Y.E.S., is new to Desert Star, which created minor challenges in the program’s first few weeks. 

“There was always that little trepidation of, ‘Who is this person? What is this program going to be about?’ They were a little timid about taking risks, and they needed more guidance and support from me,” McIntosh said.

“Now, when I come in and present a challenge to them or a task, they’re good to go. They take over, and they’re in charge of the classroom. So that’s been really cool to see. I’ve gotten great feedback from the parents and also from the other teachers that see a difference in their students after being part of Project Y.E.S.”

Ideally, McIntosh said he would like the program to expand to other schools in the district.

“We would like it to continue to serve more and more students,” he said. “So really focusing on finding ways to develop the talents and the critical thinking abilities of all students, not just those identified as gifted. I want to see the kids in the program continue to develop leadership skills and make a positive impact, and see those students develop their talents. There’s a continuum from novice to expert, and I would like to see them move all the way over to that expert column.”

The program identifies and develops gifted students; however, McIntosh assured that the children aren’t isolated and everyone has the opportunity to be part of the program. 

“They’re not separated in any way, and because of that we’ve been able to identify kids that were not on our radar as far as being students who might be gifted because we’ve seen them really grasp a concept that they were exposed to and it really is all about opportunity and exposure to rigorous learning and critical thinking,” McIntosh said.

In his first year with Desert Star, McIntosh said it’s been an easy transition, thanks to the students and teachers who have been receptive to him. 

“As far as the staff, they are just a solid team. They work together so well,” he said. “They’re very collegial and open to change, supportive of each other. And the students are just fantastic. They’re curious. They’re excited about learning and also open to change and open to new experiences.”

McIntosh said he’s excited about the program’s growth.

“We’re trying to grow the next generation of leaders,” he said. “We want to see them grow and blossom. We know that they’re going to be leading this country and our communities one day, and we want them to be prepared.”