Dr. Dylan Ferniany is a newcomer to Birmingham City Schools, but, as her teachers and students will likely tell you, that hasn’t stopped her from initiating substantial changes and encouraging creative projects for students in the system’s Gifted and Talented Education (GATE) programs.
Before accepting the position as GATE Program Specialist last May, Dr. Ferniany taught gifted education in Homewood at Shades Cahaba Elementary for four years and Homewood Middle School for three. She received her Doctorate in Education from Vanderbilt’s Peabody College in Leadership, Policy, and Organizations in 2013 and founded the Birmingham chapter of Young Education Professionals, a national organization that seeks to connect future education leaders and educators across school districts and organizations. Additionally, Ferniany was recently appointed President-Elect of the Alabama Association for Gifted Children and serves as the TEDxBirmingham K-12 Education Coordinator, supporting educators in using TED and TED-Ed talks to enhance their schools and classrooms.
In her job at BCS, Ferniany supports 12 gifted specialists who serve over 1200 students district-wide as itinerant teachers – Ferniany instituted this change at the start of the 2014-2015 school-year to limit the loss of instructional time students previously faced in going to specific schools for their gifted classes. This year, the GATE team is also working to increase collaboration and communication with classroom teachers, parents, and administrators to ensure that schools are well-equipped to meet the needs of advanced students at all levels. To that point, she says, “Our students have needs that reach beyond the hours of GATE class and we are working to meet those needs in partnership with parents, educators, and our community.”
Ferniany’s move to Birmingham characterizes her passion for gifted education, her creative and eager mind, and her desire to ensure equity in opportunity for all students in Birmingham.
Gifted education is about much more than the students identified for the program,” Ferniany says. “It is about holding all students to high expectations, seeking out students’ unique talent and finding ways for them to practice and develop it.”
Visit a GATE classroom and you’ll see this theory in action. On any given day, you might see elementary and middle school students doing Public Service Announcements, Shakespeare plays, building catapults, designing solutions to complex theoretical problems, or making board games from a random assortment of locally-designed poster misprints, plastic letters, and pipe cleaners.
This fall, the department has hosted a workshop as part of Ferniany’s interest in expanding parent outreach, helping parents/guardians appreciate the needs of gifted children and learn ways to engage them in learning at home. Ferniany and her team have initiated partnerships with multiple organizations to bring new programming to students, including the MAKEBhm design challenge for Design Week Birmingham and career speakers from BBVA Compass. Through these partnerships, Ferniany hopes to help students better connect to their city and see their futures here.
In the spring, the GATE program expects to continue and expand current partnerships and programs that have been successful, while also evolving to meet the needs of each school and each student.
“I can’t wait to see what the students and teachers in the BCS GATE program will create,” says Ferniany. “The emphasis on project-based learning, creative and critical thinking skills–kids and teachers love it, and they are so engaged. You can’t help but be inspired by the students and be excited by what they’ll do next.”
January is Alabama’s Gifted Education Month where teachers and students share the importance of gifted education programs. If you would like more information about the program please contact Dr. Ferniany at firstname.lastname@example.org