Mrs. Ernst
Gifted & Talented Education Facilitator

District-Wide GATE Information

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Novel Competition

Book Blasters
Thou shalt kill. 
A world with no hunger, no disease, no war, no misery. Humanity has conquered all those things, and has even conquered death. Now scythes are the only ones
who can end life—and they are commanded to do so, in order to keep the size of the population under control. Citra and Rowan are chosen to apprentice to a scyth
—a role that neither wants. These teens must master the “art” of taking life, knowing that the consequence of failure could mean losing their own.    


Madrid, 1957.

Under the fascist dictatorship of General Francisco Franco, Spain is hiding a dark secret. Meanwhile, tourists and foreign businessmen flood into Spain under the welcoming promise of sunshine and wine. Among them is eighteen-year-old Daniel Matheson, the son of an oil tycoon, who arrives in Madrid with his parents hoping to connect with the country of his mother's birth through the lens of his camera. Photography--and fate--introduce him to Ana, whose family's interweaving obstacles reveal the lingering grasp of the Spanish Civil War--as well as chilling definitions of fortune and fear. Daniel's photographs leave him with uncomfortable questions amidst shadows of danger. He is backed into a corner of difficult decisions to protect those he loves. Lives and hearts collide, revealing an incredibly dark side to the sunny Spanish city.


"You’re so exotic!”

“You look so unusual.” “But what are you really?” Eleven-year-old Isabella is used to these kinds of comments - her father is black, her mother is white - but that doesn't mean she likes them. And now that her parents are divorced (and getting along WORSE than ever), Isabella feels more like a push-me-pull-me toy. One week she’s Isabella with her dad, his girlfriend Anastasia, and her son Darren living in a fancy house where they are one of the only black families in the neighborhood. The next week she’s Izzy with her mom and her boyfriend John-Mark in a small, not-so-fancy house that she loves. Being split between Mom and Dad is more than switching houses, switching nicknames, switching backpacks: it’s also about switching identities. If you’re only seen as half of this and half of that, how can you ever feel whole?


Other Words for Home by Jasmine Warga

Jude never thought she’d be leaving her beloved older brother and father behind, all the way across the ocean in Syria. But when things in her hometown start becoming volatile, Jude and her mother are sent to live in Cincinnati with relatives. At first, everything in America seems too fast and too loud. The American movies that Jude has always loved haven’t quite prepared her for starting school in the US—and her new label of “Middle Eastern,” an identity she’s never known before. But this life also brings unexpected surprise—there are new friends, a whole new family, and a school musical that Jude might just try out for. Maybe America, too, is a place where Jude can be seen as she really is.


 Look Both Ways: A Tale Told in Ten Blocks by Jason Reynolds

This story was going to begin like all the best stories. With a school bus falling from the sky. But no one saw it happen. They were all too busy. Jason Reynolds conjures ten tales (one per block) about what happens after the dismissal bell rings, and brilliantly weaves them into one wickedly funny, piercingly poignant look at the detours we face on the walk home, and in life.


Marcus Vega Doesn’t Speak Spanish by Pablo Cartaya 

Marcus Vega is six feet tall, 180 pounds, and the owner of a premature mustache. When you look like this and you're only in the eighth grade, you're both a threat and a target. Marcus knows what classmates and teachers see when they look at him: a monster. But appearances are deceiving. At home, Marcus is a devoted brother. And he finds ways to earn cash to contribute to his family’s rainy day fund. His mom works long hours and his dad walked out ten years ago—someone has to pick up the slack.
After a fight at school leaves him facing suspension, Marcus and his family decide to hit the reset button and regroup for a week in Puerto Rico. Marcus is more interested in finding his father, though, who is somewhere on the island. Through a series of misadventures that take Marcus all over Puerto Rico in search of the elusive Mr. Vega, Marcus meets a colorful cast of characters who show him the many faces of fatherhood. And he even learns a bit of Spanish along the way.


Truly Devious by Maureen Johnson

Ellingham Academy is a famous private school in Vermont for the brightest thinkers, inventors, and artists. It was founded by Albert Ellingham, an early twentieth century tycoon, who wanted to make a wonderful place full of riddles, twisting pathways, and gardens. “A place,” he said, “where learning is a game.” Shortly after the school opened, his wife and daughter were kidnapped. The only real clue was a mocking riddle listing methods of murder, signed with the frightening pseudonym “Truly, Devious.” It became one of the great unsolved crimes of American history.
True-crime aficionado Stevie Bell is set to begin her first year at Ellingham Academy, and she has an ambitious plan: She will solve this cold case. That is, she will solve the case when she gets a grip on her demanding new school life and her housemates: the inventor, the novelist, the actor, the artist, and the jokester. But something strange is happening. Truly Devious makes a surprise return, and death revisits Ellingham Academy. The past has crawled out of its grave. Someone has gotten away with murder. 


The Benefits of Being an Octopus by Ann Braden

Seventh-grader Zoey has her hands full as she takes care of her much younger siblings after school every day while her mom works her shift at the pizza parlor. Not that her mom seems to appreciate it. At least there’s Lenny, her mom’s boyfriend—they all get to live in his nice, clean trailer. At school, Zoey tries to stay under the radar. Her only friend Fuchsia has her own issues, and since they're in an entirely different world than the rich kids, it’s best if no one notices them. Zoey thinks how much easier everything would be if she were an octopus: eight arms to do eight things at once. Incredible camouflage ability and steady, unblinking vision. Powerful protective defenses.
Unfortunately, she’s not totally invisible, and one of her teachers forces her to join the debate club. Even though Zoey resists participating, debate ultimately leads her to see things in a new way: her mom’s relationship with Lenny, Fuchsia’s situation, and her own place in this town of people who think they’re better than her. Can Zoey find the courage to speak up, even if it means risking the most stable home she’s ever had?


Pet by Akwaeke Emezi

There are no more monsters anymore, or so the children in the city of Lucille are taught. With doting parents and a best friend named Redemption, Jam has grown up with this lesson all her life. But when she meets Pet, a creature made of horns and colours and claws, who emerges from one of her mother's paintings and a drop of Jam's blood, she must reconsider what she's been told. Pet has come to hunt a monster, and the shadow of something grim lurks in Redemption's house. Jam must fight not only to protect her best friend, but also to uncover the truth, and the answer to the question.


White Bird by R. J. Palacio

In R. J. Palacio's collection of stories Auggie & Me, which expands on characters in Wonder, readers were introduced to Julian's grandmother, Grandmère. This is Grandmère's story as a young Jewish girl hidden away by a family in Nazi-occupied France during World War II told in graphic novel form.


Welcome to Gifted and Talented

Dear Students and Families,

Welcome to R.M. Marrs Magnet Center. My name is Susan Ernst, and I am the Gifted/Talented (GT) Facilitator. I look forward to communicating with you throughout the school year.

Marrs Magnet School has maintained an outstanding record of academic excellence. Students who attend Marrs are well prepared to meet the academic challenges of high school. Our mission is to provide a rigorous academic experience that is based on research and best practices and enables all students to achieve their highest potential.

The goal of the Gifted and Talented Education (GATE) program is to identify gifted and exceptionally talented students within the Omaha Public Schools, nurture their social/emotional development and enhance their curriculum experience so these unique individuals may reach their fullest potential. Students are identified based on an annual evaluation of standardized tests, or on IQ or CogAt assessments. At Marrs Magnet School the program is designed to address student needs through a combination of the following methods:

      o   Classroom Differentiation
      o   Honors and Advanced Classes
      o   Contest/Competitions
      o   Enrichment Activities and Clubs

Competition and enrichment groups are open to all interested students: they must maintain high grades in their classes.

Our Gifted and Talented Education (GATE) Program at Marrs Magnet School is based on the Omaha Public Schools “Best Practices”. We want to support your high ability learner. We will be making sure our courses are differentiated. We will support staff through collaboration and professional development and by planning and providing opportunities for your child.

Should you have any questions throughout the year, please contact me at 531-299-2420 or at A strong partnership between school and home is vital to the success of our students. Thank you for supporting your student academically/socially/emotionally, which will result in their sterling success.

Susan Ernst
GATE Facilitator
R.M. Marrs Magnet Center




The goal of the Gifted and Talented program is to offer a differentiated rigorous curriculum by providing curricular and instructional adaptations that address the unique needs of high ability learners. At Marrs Middle School, the program is organized to address these needs through a combination of the following methods:

o   Differentiation

o   Advanced Classes

o   Contest/Competitions

o   Enrichment Activities and Clubs




The Omaha Public Schools’ method of identifying gifted and talented students is modeled after the NAGC (National Association of Gifted Children). To be identified for these services a student must have met at least 3 of the 4 criteria listed below:



COGNITIVE – Top 5% at the school or national level on an intelligence/cognitive test

ACHIEVEMENT – Top 5% at the school or national level on a grade-level achievement test

MOTIVATION/PERFORMANCE – “A” or Advanced (ADV) in 60% or more courses on the most recent grade report, 3.5 G.P.A. equivalent, OR a qualifying recommendation for Motivation/Performance as verified from the Second Grade Classroom Teacher Input Form OR Parent/Guardian/Student/Staff Recommendation Form

CREATIVITY/LEADERSHIP – Qualifying recommendation for Creativity/Leadership as verified from the Second Grade Classroom Teacher Input Form OR Parent/Guardian/Student/Staff Recommendation Form


District GATE Brochure - Coming soon

Gifted and Talented Education (GATE)

Coordinated by the Office of Gifted and Talented

Academic Pentathlon: The newest program of the United States Academic Decathlon for middle school students was created to provide opportunities to experience the challenges of a rigorous team and individual competition in five events: Language and Literature, Mathematics, Music, Science, and Social Studies. The Pentathlon theme parallels that of the high school Academic Decathlon program.

(currently optional for a school to participate)

Book Blasters:
Book Blasters is a district-wide competition that involves a team of students who are responsible for reading approximately 12 selected novels. Teams then compete to see who reigns supreme in knowledge of the novels’ content.

Duke Talent Identification Program (Duke TIP):
The 7th grade talent search through Duke University provides an opportunity for high ability students to pursue an above-level testing experience. 

Poetry SLAMS:
  Each fall and spring student poets from each middle school take the stage and share their writing with their peers.  SLAMS provide an outlet to express feelings, thoughts, and ideas with an audience that yearns for student expression.

Quiz Bowl:
Quiz Bowl is an academic competition. A four-member team competes against the clock answering questions from various disciplines. Skills, such as teamwork, cooperative group discussion, problem-solving, and reaction time, are enhanced through practices and competitions.

Think Tank:
Think Tank is a competitive problem-solving event for 7th and 8th graders held on the UNO campus. This day-long event features a game that involves creative problem-solving. 

Gifted and Talented Activities @ Marrs

  • Academic Pentathlon

  • African American History Challenge

  • Book Blasters

  • Contests in Math, Writing, Speech, and Technology

  • Geography Bee

  • Poetry Slams

  • Spelling Bee

  • Think Tank

  • Quiz Bowls

All Gifted and Talented events will be held virtually until restrictions are lifted.  Dates will be announced soon.  For specific questions regarding upcoming events, please contact Susan Ernst at or call 531-299-8844.






NJHS Chapter Advisors:
Susan Ernst (Library), Jocelyn Masai, Leann May-Burr, Anjel Fields, Sheila McCauley

NJHS Chapter Officers:
Diego Gomez & Sara  (Co-Presidents), Keiry (Secretary), Hank 
(Sergeant at Arms)

**Please, note...

March 26, 2021- NJHS Applications Distributed

April 9, 2021- NJHS Applications Due

April 16, 2021-NJHS Congratulatory Letters Out

TBA  NJHS Induction












By-Laws Spanish


African American History Challenge (AAHC)

"The AAHC is a national educational program designed by the 100 Black Men of America to enhance the study of and encourage the appreciation of African-American history and culture. Students and coaches spend untold hours studying and preparing for our local and national competition. Since 2001, this educational reading program has impacted over 2,200 students and has provided over $400,000 in scholarships and awards to deserving Omaha area students of all races and ethnicities. Many AAHC students have gone on to graduate from high school and college, and have started careers. Each year, students and coaches spend untold hours studying and preparing for our local and national competition."


The 2021 Marrs African American History Challenge Team

Sierra Thomas & McKenzie James

Front Page of the Omaha Star Newspaper-Longest running black newspaper in Nebraska




Marrs GATE Calendar of Events


GATETrailer Event