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Students test civic skills

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NORMAL - A 10-year-old Bloomington student, is starting his civic involvement early by testifying at the Illinois State Board of Education budget hearings today in Springfield.

Lance Bergmann, a Northpoint Elementary student, will ask for funding of programs for gifted students to be reinstated.

The fifth-grader is one of three Bloomington-Normal students to speak. The hearings are to gather information for the 2007 school-year budget; hearings already have been held in some parts of the state. Others are scheduled to deal with other areas of education funding.

""We definitely felt the loss of state funding," said Cathy Greene, director of elementary education and professional development for Unit 5. The Normal-based school district was able to keep some of its programs for gifted students but also had to cut its ""pull-out" program for kindergarten to third grade and lose the advanced learner specialist, she said.

The state cut funding for gifted children three years ago, and removed legislative language referring to such students. The language - but not the funding - was replaced last year, acknowledging the students have special needs in education.

Each of the three students have prepared speeches of 3 to 5 minutes and will speak before the finance and audit committee of the state Board of Education. The three students are among 850 identified as gifted of Unit 5's 11,718 students.

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Zach Parton, an eighth-grade student at Kingsley Junior High School in Bloomington isnít afraid of speaking in front of strangers. The gifted 14-year-old is looking forward to expressing his concerns. He is preparing for a ""politically oriented career" in the United States or in Israel and hopes his education will help him get there.

"We have potential," he said. "The funding will help young people live up to their potential."

Local gifted students been involved in many innovative projects, including raising money to send books to Africa, honing leadership skills working with first- to third-graders and designing plans and raising money for hurricane victims, Greene said.

Without such offerings, gifted children may become bored, lose interest, disturb others or daydream in class.

Taylor Pauken, 13, a seventh-grader at Kingsley Junior High School, said Northpoint Elementary Schoolís gifted program was "wonderful" but in junior high, "it dissolved."

She intends to tell the state board that Unit 5's gifted program made her feel like she ""could conquer almost anything. … I was taken out of my boring regular classes and challenged to go above and beyond my other classmates' level."

She used to look forward to going to school every day, but now she's not being challenged.

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