SPRING HILL — It wasn't quite American Idol, but officials at Explorer K-8 started testing students Tuesday to find out who's got talent.
And just like the reality show contestants audition for their chance to be the next star, parents and children huddled in the lobby at the new school for the chance to show they are gifted enough to attend the Quest Academy for Gifted Education, set to open at Explorer in August.
The screening process is meant to identify students who might qualify for the new center, which will consolidate the district's gifted education programs. If students meet certain criteria, they will be asked back for additional testing and could be placed in the gifted program.
The process, which continues through today, is simple. After giving some background information and taking hearing, vision and intelligence tests, students and their parents were told whether they made the first cut.
Either way, Barbara Hebert had to break the news. She admitted, though, it was not fun telling children they would not be considered for the program.
"It shouldn't be construed as bad news, necessarily," said Hebert, a program staffing specialist for the district's exceptional student education office.
But that did not change the way some students reacted to hearing that they were not gifted enough. "A lot of kids come in here with expectations placed on them by their parents," she said.
Becky Fengarinas of Weeki Wachee said she tried not to put too much pressure on her 8-year-old daughter, Casey Leach.
"I'm just seeing how things go," Fengarinas said shortly after Casey emerged from her testing room. The tests were easy, Casey said, at least easier than the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test.
Of the 160 students expected to be screened during the two-day testing period, Explorer principal Dominick Ferello estimated between 60 and 85 will be accepted into the gifted program. About 215 students are already signed up for the program, Ferello said.
Pamela Dancey hopes her daughter, Kyara, 9, will be accepted. "She did very well on her FCATs," Dancey said of her daughter.
Kyara attended Pine Grove Elementary School last year, but redistricting moved the Danceys into the Westside Elementary School attendance zone. Dancey said she is not happy with Westside's state and federal rankings and wanted to explore her daughter's options.
So the two traveled to Explorer on Tuesday morning to get screened, where Kyara said she was nervous about the test. But besides being an above average student, Kyara took one extra step Tuesday to make sure she performed well during the screening, her mom said.
"She ate a good breakfast this morning," Dancey said.
Michael Sanserino can be reached at email@example.com or (352) 848-1430.