The Galileo School for Gifted Learning in Sanford, Florida, a charter school guided by the work of such prominent researchers as “flow” founder Mihaly
Csikszentmihaly, PhD, and educational psychologist Joseph
Renzulli, PhD, has won APA’s 2015 Golden Psi Award. APA’s
Board of Educational Affairs (BEA) presents the $1,000 prize
annually to a school that uses psychological science to promote
academic achievement and social-emotional learning.
The Galileo School, founded by educational psychologist
Michele Gregoire Gill, PhD, accepts any K– 8 student, regardless
of ability, through a lottery system. The 300-student school
has a student-centered “voices and choices” curriculum that
provides tailored opportunities for students to learn about what
they are most interested in.
“Our unofficial tagline is ‘Nurturing the gifts of every child,’”
says Gill, an associate professor in the School of Teaching,
Learning and Leadership at the University of Central Florida.
“The heart of the school is finding where kids’ passions lie.”
While the school’s standard curriculum includes math,
science and reading classes similar to the public school
model, Galileo goes a step further by offering students
“creative productivity workshops” on such topics as health,
the environment and digital storytelling. These student-
chosen courses push students’ creativity and expand their
interest in their required classes, says Tammy Hughes, PhD, a
school psychologist who chairs the BEA Golden Psi selection
“By offering a robotics elective, for example, the children are
more motivated to learn math skills in class that can be applied
to making the robots move,” says Hughes.
The school also strongly emphasizes the need for teachers to
structure each student’s work so that it is neither too easy nor
too difficult, and for teachers to be kind so that all students feel
safe and encouraged, says Gill. “Kindness guides our hearts, and
we will not renew the contracts of teachers if they are unkind,
even if they are otherwise good teachers,” she says.
Instructors also tap the expertise of educational psychology
graduate students and professors through a professional
development partnership with the University of Central Florida.
Gill, whose two sons attend Galileo, had the idea for
the school when her oldest son started kindergarten. As a
psychologist, she noticed that most public schools weren’t using
the best education research she studied in graduate school.
So, Gill drummed up support from parents, politicians and
fellow academics to create a school that would embrace quality
educational research to guide teaching and learning. She opened
Galileo in 2011.
Galileo’s own research also guides the curriculum, says Gill.
At the end of every school year, the board surveys students,
teachers and parents on what works and what doesn’t and uses
that feedback to refine the next year’s curriculum.
“Any school could do what we do” to foster students’ passion
for education, says Gill. “I would love to see more schools where
children are given voices and choices in their learning.” n
gifts of every child’
This year’s APA Golden Psi Award goes to a
psychologist-designed public charter school in Florida.
By Jamie Chamberlin