Amy Azano, an assistant professor in Virginia Tech’s School of Education, will work with rural school districts in Virginia to identify gifted and talented students and develop programs to serve them, thanks to a federal grant.
Azano is collaborating with Carolyn Callahan, professor of education at the University of Virginia’s Curry School of Education and an expert in gifted education. Callahan is the principal investigator on the five-year grant of nearly $2 million from the U.S. Department of Education’s Jacob K. Javits Gifted and Talented Students Education Program.
“Gifted students in Virginia’s rural school districts are often overlooked,” said Azano, co-principal investigator on the grant. “They are not represented because they are not identified.”
Azano and Callahan’s program, called Promoting PLACE (Place, Literacy, Achievement, Community, Engagement), aims to increase the number of rural students in gifted programs, especially in high-poverty school districts. Success would be demonstrated by increased achievement in reading, writing, and student engagement.
Working with students in grades 3 and 4, the two researchers hope to develop high-quality language arts units based on the CLEAR curriculum model. CLEAR, developed by the National Research Center on the Gifted and Talented, is a framework to design programs for students capable of advanced work.
The CLEAR curriculum model has proved successful in integrating several approaches to gifted education, Callahan said, but has not been tested in rural settings using place-based pedagogy for high-poverty students.
Azano noted that children in rural areas have unique experiences and needs compared with those in urban and suburban settings. She and Callahan will address such questions as: Where are these students living? What is their life experience? Are those experiences reflected in their school curriculum?
“As the program develops, we will modify the PLACE curriculum to reflect these students’ personal knowledge and perceptions,” Azano said. “We are now recruiting rural school districts across the state and in Southwest Virginia, and we encourage interested administrators to contact us.”
After piloting the revised curriculum and researching the results in two rural Virginia school districts, the researchers plan to expand the program to 12 more rural divisions across Virginia over the next two years.
“This is a great achievement for a rising star on our faculty as these grants are highly competitive” said Bonnie Billingsley, chair of the teaching and learning faculty in the School of Education. “Amy not only brings expertise about literacy instruction and rural education to this project, she is also passionate about improving services for students in rural areas and is able to bring people together in productive ways around this critical need.”
Azano joined the Virginia Tech faculty in 2012. She is also an affiliate faculty member with the Virginia Tech Center for Autism Research, serves on the steering committee, and leads the education research core.
She received a Ph.D. from the University of Virginia, where she served with Callahan as research faculty at the National Research Center on the Gifted and Talented. She holds a master's degree from Old Dominion University and a bachelor's degree from Louisiana State University.
Azano’s research interests include rural literacies, place-based pedagogy, and the literacy needs of special populations, particularly those in rural communities. She has published in top-tier peer-reviewed journals and has presented at national and international conferences.
School district officials interested in participating in Azano’s research may contact her by email.