New high-achiever classes are being launched in the Bay's schools as programmes for the gifted and talented continue to expand.
A Bay of Plenty Times Weekend study has shown around 15 per cent of Secondary School students and 10 per cent of Intermediate pupils are being taught in gifted or accelerated programmes.
One of the latest to be launched is an Elite Performing Arts class at Mount Maunganui College.
Head of Drama Wayne Flanagan said the 26-strong class, which began this year, was for musicians, singers, dancers and actors in Years 9 and 10.
"There's an incredible wealth of talent in the intermediate and primary schools which had a tendency to get lost when they first arrived at college."
The group will be taught three classes a week in addition to the mainstream curriculum.
Mr Flanagan said being taught with like-minded children would ensure the students were advanced by Year 11, when NCEA requirements would separate them into their specialist disciplines.
Beyond the core mainstream subjects, programmes as diverse as sport, performing arts, future thinking, design and innovation, digital arts and leadership are now being offered by Bay schools.
Mount Maunganui College's gifted and talented facilitator Dinah O'Meara said this could broaden further as Maori and Pasifika concepts of giftedness - which took on cultural and spiritual dimensions such as service to others - were absorbed.
Students were chosen for programmes in a range of ways including initial and ongoing testing, teacher observation and parental recommendation.
Approaches taken to teaching exceptionally talented pupils included: teaching stand alone classes, groups within mainstream classes, mentorship with older students, distance learning, and entry into regional and national competitions.
Otumoetai Intermediate College runs an Incredible Minds programme, featuring academies in academic high performance; arts; sports; digital arts and leadership. Its approach was to cluster students within mainstream classes.
"By placing our students in clusters within a well differentiated class, they get the best of both worlds," said Otumoetai Intermediate principal Henk Popping.
Jenny Livingstone, Aquinas College's GATE (Gifted and Talented Education) programme co-ordinator, said recognising exceptional talent allowed it to thrive.
"Recently we had one student working with a Year 12 mathematics class whilst in Year 9."
Tauranga Boys College deputy principal Richard Hall agreed but said the definitions of gifted and accelerate were important.
"We define those accelerate students as those who are performing well above their peers."
The proof of the programme's benefits, which involved 14 per cent (250 of 1760) of the school roll, was shown by its success.
"Our programme has given us the highest number of scholarship passes in the region for a significant number of years."
Tauranga Girls College gifted and talented co-ordinator Felicity Pitt said compacting the curriculum prevented students becoming bored with work they had already done while others caught up.
"This allows greater depth in discussions and assignments to encourage lateral thinking."
Other schools were equally fulsome in their support of the system.
"We believe, and the results have shown, that these students do excel in this environment," said Otumoetai College principal Dave Randell, where 16 per cent of students were involved in its Advanced Learners programme.
However, potential drawbacks to the system included students being perceived as different or elitist by their peers.
A University of Canterbury (UC) study found many top students were not comfortable being identified as gifted and talented.
"They understood what was appropriate within their particular socio-cultural milieu," said UC PhD student Louise Tapper, who conducted the survey of Year 9 students over 18 months. Being gifted and talented was an identity that should be underplayed.
David Crone, Te Puke High School deputy principal, said,
"This presents a challenge to schools in the way that gifted students are presented around the school and the way that programmes are run or offered."
Programme has Mount duo aiming high
Two Year 11 students are striving to reach the upper sporting echelons having been inspired by a high achievers programme.
Dean Julian and Emma Marumaru-Flynn, both 15, are now in their third year as members of Mount Maunganui College's elite sports programme. The programme, which began in 2005 and has 75 participants, focuses on fundamentals such as fitness, ball skills and flexibility rather than specific sports.
Alan Jarvis Cook, who is in charge of senior athletes, said students were now being attracted to the school specifically because of the programme's success.
The school had produced multiple regional and national representatives in sports such as triathlon, duathlon, beach volleyball and volleyball. They had even had an international wood sawer, he said.
Emma, who is a top athlete and netballer, has also been selected for the NZ U19 volleyball squad.
"I only came to college playing netball and now I'm doing athletics, volleyball and beach volleyball," she said.
Dean, an athlete, cross country runner and rugby player, said the programme had improved his all-round athleticism. Both say they have aspirations to represent their country in sport.