Camden City School District announces return of gifted and talented program

BY Leah Mishkin, Correspondent |

Octavius V. Catto Family School is one of the two largest elementary schools in the city of Camden. Come this fall, it’s also going to be one of the locations for a new pilot program for gifted and talented third to fifth graders. Lily Rosa is one of them.

“I understand things more and I need to get more challenge to see what I can do,” Lily said.

This third grader says her mom was also in a gifted and talented program growing up.

“I’m going to experience what she does, and I heard it’s going to be challenging and going to get me ready for college, so I’m up for a challenge,” Lily said.

But for over a decade, students in Camden didn’t have a place to meet the needs of advanced learners. Deputy Superintendent Katrina McCombs says a gifted and talented program was eliminated by a prior administration to shift resources.

“We have something in place for our high school students already, the Advanced Placement courses. We also have our creative arts, Morgan Village Academy, and magnet schools that tap into those gifted areas for our students. But when it came to K-8, that’s where it was barren with regard to gifted and talented,” said McCombs. 

That’s why they’re bringing back a program that the district says will offer diverse reading and creative writing, advanced problem solving activities, and a chance to research scientific and cultural topics.

“I’m excited to know that students in this program now that we’re piloting will be not only the top scores, but also students that have special needs, students that are English language learners, because as an English language learner myself, I know what that takes,” said special education coach for the city of Camden, Cindi Martinez.

One hundred thirty students were chosen to participate in the pilot program through a screening assessment with the goal of eventually expanding to more grades and more schools.

“I remember Ms. Ofilia Andrews, who recently passed away, she was my sixth grade teacher. I was shy, I was quiet, I was introverted, and I knew that I had to do my best work in school because my parents and grandparents didn’t expect any less. But Ms. Andrew saw something different in me that I didn’t know existed in myself. She said that I was talented, that I was smart,” said McCombs.

Lily’s grandmother says she has that same support system.

“Lily has eighth grade teachers that she goes to, sixth grade, seventh grade. Any teacher in this building will assist any student,” said Lily’s grandmother, Portia Spearman.

“I just take her to my heart because she’s like my child,” said family friend Pat Johnson.

“It means the whole world to these students, and parents as well, that we want their kids to be prepared and succeed in life,” said Camden mayor Frank Moran.

“When we were screening for gifted and talented using the NNAT3 assessment, she scored the highest score so we are so very proud of Lily,” McCombs.

So was her dad, who was almost brought to tears watching his daughter at the podium.

“When I grow up, I am not sure if I’ll be a ballerina or have a career in math. But if I practice hard, challenge myself and always do my best, I will be successful,” Lily said.

“I was like, wow, I actually did my job as a parent,” said Lily’s dad, Michael Rosa. “It’s a good feeling.”

Lily went back to class after the news conference, ready to get back to work.