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Teachers of Gifted Drawn to UConn
August 30, 1999

They came in droves from America's heartland and UConn's homeland. They traveled to Storrs from over the border in Mexico and Canada, and overseas from Japan and Singapore. Nearly 1,100 educators used their summer vacation to once again become students of education.

They were pupils of the gurus of gifted and talented education during Confratute, a two-week summer program on enrichment learning and teaching sponsored by the Neag Center for Gifted Education and Talent Development at UConn. The grand guru of them all is Joseph Renzulli, the Neag Professor of Gifted Education and Talent Development, who created the summer program 22 years ago. At that time 173 people attended; this year it was 1,073 and people had to be turned away.

"I just never thought when I started, Confratute would grow to this size and remain as exciting and dynamic as it's been," Renzulli says.

The word "Confratute" is a Renzulli creation too. It represents the key elements of his program: CONference, FRATernity and institUTE. What he and his hand-picked team of gifted education experts have done is create an environment of camaraderie that is challenging, thought-provoking and just plain fun.

Teachers and special program coordinators are drawn to Confratute to learn how to better tailor their classrooms so that they fit the needs of each student, whether they're learning disabled, average or gifted students. Renzulli believes that educators are finding, and test scores are proving, that the "one size fits all" method of teaching doesn't work.

"Learning is maximized when we consider each student's abilities, interests and learning styles," he says. It's that strategy that, over the years, has drawn more than 16,000 educators to Storrs. "We understand it's not going to put UConn on the map like a basketball championship, but among educators, we now have a reputation for being one of, if not the place to be for education enrichment."

What Renzulli didn't predict is the degree to which Confratute is becoming an effective tool for student recruitment. This year for the first time, the Confratute crowd was housed at South Campus. Sally Reis, Confratute coordinator and a UConn professor of educational psychology, says the compliments didn't stop.

"The participants were thrilled with the new dorm rooms and dining hall at South Campus," says Reis. "People were constantly commenting about the beauty of the campus and they were impressed with the new chemistry building. As the parents and teachers of bright students, they were also asking about UConn's increasing competitiveness."

President Philip E. Austin welcomed that reaction. "To have more than 1,000 educators of bright, talented students go back to their schools, enthused about their experiences at Confratute and excited about the University of Connecticut, is a wonderful outcome."

The success of Confratute also underscores the potential for a campus hotel which is in the planning stages right now.

"While it will be a great resource on campus for alumni and parents, a hotel would supply the faculty with an essential tool for hosting academic conferences," Austin says, "which in turn showcases our University and helps enhance our national reputation for academic excellence."

Meanwhile, the phone at the Neag Center is already busy with questions about registration for next year. Renzulli says, "People always ask me what my most important contribution is and they expect me to say a book or research, but it's Confratute. It's a remarkable thing."

Janice Palmer