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Shift in city's priorities seen as gifted program denied expansion

Parents of children admitted to the STEM citywide gifted program at P.S. 85 attend an open house Wednesday. Every morning, Tim Smith and his nine-year-old son leave their Bronx home at 7:30 a.m., catch a MetroNorth train to 125th Street and then board the M60 bus into Queens — all so the third-grader can attend P.S. 85 in Astoria, home to one of New York City’s handful of citywide gifted-and-talented programs. Even so, they brace themselves for an even more difficult journey ahead: Finding a middle school. In 2009, when P.S. 85′s program opened as part of an effort to expand gifted education, the Department of Education pledged “to identify nearby middle schools where students in these programs can continue after fifth grade.” But last month, responding to parents’ pleas to make good on the promise, the department informed them that P.S. 85 cannot handle expansion into a middle school because it is already “operating close to 100 percent capacity.” It said students in the gifted program — called the STEM Academy (it stands for Science, Technology, Enrichment and Math) — must go to middle school elsewhere. STEM is the only citywide gifted-and-talented elementary school program that ends with fifth grade. (It is the only citywide gifted program housed within another school.) Three of the four other citywide programs — Manhattan’s Anderson School and TAG Young Scholars, as well as the Brooklyn School of Inquiry — continue through eighth grade, and Manhattan’s NEST+M carries students through the end of high school. “The school was meant to be a peer for the other citywide gifted programs, and admission to a middle school program was supposed to be seamless,” said Smith. STEM parents charge that their program has been neglected because of a shift in priorities at the Department of Education.