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04-28-14: Academic options expand for highly capable students
Posted on 04/28/2014

A new enrichment program designed to challenge highly capable students in reading and science will begin in September for first and second graders and expand to serve kindergartners by late fall.


Parents and guardians of students who will enter first or second grade this fall are encouraged to apply by April 30 to have their children tested this spring for the new “Young Scholars” highly capable enrichment program.


Applications are available in all district elementary schools and on the school district website at On the Home page, point to the Programs tab and click Highly Capable.


Parents of incoming kindergartners do not need to apply yet for the program. Kindergartners will be observed and identified for the new enrichment program after school starts and begin the program by late fall.


The Puyallup School District already offers challenging instructional programs with specially designed curriculum and instruction for highly capable students in grades three through nine, as well as rigorous Advanced Placement courses at the high school.


Recent changes in state law, however, require that all school districts provide services for identified highly capable students in kindergarten through grade 12.


At the high school level, Puyallup has added specialized counseling for highly capable students in grades 10-12 at registration. The counseling is designed to educate students and their families about classes and career pathways that best meet their needs.


In addition, a team of parents, students, community members, and educators will begin meeting next month to study rigorous academic program options for students in grades 10 through 12.


K-2 enrichment program


Students identified as highly capable will leave their classrooms at each of the district’s 21 elementary schools for two hours each week to receive more challenging reading and science lessons.Image


The students will remain at their same schools and meet in small groups in available space identified on each campus, said Director of Instructional Leadership Mark Vetter.

“They will have an opportunity to work with intellectual peers in a rigorous environment of discovery and exploration,” Vetter said.


Educators trained to teach highly capable students will develop lessons for students, and paraeducators (teaching assistants) will be trained to present the curriculum, he said.


Woodland Elementary second-grade teacher Andrea DeBruler is excited about the new offering.


“Highly capable learners thrive on challenge and opportunities to work with other students who demonstrate similar gifts and talents,” she said. “And all students benefit from instruction that is tailored to meet their individual needs.”


Multiple criteria will be used to determine which students will be accepted into the Young Scholars program.


Criteria will include a cognitive abilities test that challenges students to think and reason with words, numbers, and shapes. A reading comprehension test, a writing assessment, various school assessments, and teacher and parent observations will also be considered, said Nancy Velazquez, coordinator of the district’s highly capable programs.


A screening committee of psychologists, teachers who work in the district’s highly capable student programs, and administrators will review the data and select participants, Vetter said.


Student names will not be visible to screeners during the selection process to maintain anonymity, he said.


In addition to the Young Scholars enrichment program, schools will continue to have the option of accelerating highly capable students into upper grade-level classrooms as appropriate for reading and math, as well as clustering them all day in a mixed-ability classroom.


When students are clustered all day in a mixed-ability classroom, the teacher is trained to present lessons to a diverse student population, including highly capable learners, Vetter said. This practice has already been occurring in some second-grade classrooms in the district.


As the new K-2 enrichment program gets under way, the district will continue to offer the Quality Experiences to Stimulate Thinking (QUEST) program at eight regional school sites for highly capable students in grades three through six.


Junior high and high school


Efforts will be intensified throughout the school district to counsel and encourage students who are above standard academically to enroll in challenging junior high and high school courses, Vetter said.


Ninth graders who meet required course prerequisites will also be allowed to enroll in advanced math or world language classes when feasible at the high school in their geographic region. The district will provide transportation for those students to their area high school.


The district will continue to offer the Puyallup Accelerated and Gifted Education (PAGE) program at Kalles Junior High for highly capable students identified districtwide in grades seven through nine.


Additionally, all high school students who meet course requirements will continue to be encouraged to take rigorous classes such as Advanced Placement and those that offer dual high school and college credit, Vetter said.


Exploring high school rigor


A team of parents, community members, students, and educators has been formed to explore “highly rigorous academic program options” for grades 10-12 as an alternative to the traditional comprehensive high school experience, said Brian Lowney, chief academic officer of Regional Learning Community #3.


The High School Academic Program Options Lead Team is expected to begin meeting in May and plans to submit a report with recommendations to the school board in early October for possible new program implementation in fall 2015.


The district spent time earlier this year exploring the idea of opening an international school for grades 10-12 on the Edgemont Junior High campus. This work will continue with the recent formation of the lead team to examine all rigorous academic program options, Lowney said.


A separate study group made up of junior high and high school educators is also exploring the possibility of initiating an International Baccalaureate (IB) program in this district. The educators have already toured several Washington schools that offer the international education program and attended an IB training workshop.


“The goal in all of our efforts is to give each child in kindergarten through grade 12 every opportunity to grow and learn at the highest level,” Vetter said.