District to expand high-ability program

FORTVILLE — Educators from Mt. Vernon School Corp. say expanding an enrichment program for elementary school students who learn at faster rates than their peers will allow the district to cater to educational services for each child.

The district created two new full-time teaching positions to coordinate its high-ability program, which serves students in Grades 3 through 5 who have been identified by school staff as high achievers. Both educators will rotate among the district’s three elementary schools and will pull students out of their regular class schedules to receive lessons in a smaller group setting.

The new teachers will work with the same group of students, but one will focus on math and science; the other will concentrate on language arts and reading, school officials said.

The expansion was spurred by a successful pilot program funded by a one-semester grant that began in August. Jessica Daugherty, the part-time employee who coordinated the program, was hired as the language arts/reading coordinator for the new program; the other position has yet to be filled.

The pilot program was offered at Fortville Elementary. The district’s other elementary schools have offered advanced lessons to high-achieving students, but the new initiative promises to round out the program, said Heather Whitaker, principal at Mt. Comfort Elementary School.

“This provides another tool for us,” Whitaker said. “Now we’ll have someone who can focus on that group of students and knows how to provide the extra push to help them reach their capabilities.”

In all, the expansion will cost about $90,000, school officials said. A little more than half the funding will come from the district’s general fund; the rest will come from leftover grant money and a $4,500 contribution from the Mt. Vernon Education Foundation.

Students identified for the high-ability program will be pulled from their classrooms and receive lessons from the coordinators several times a week. Lessons will last 30 minutes to an hour, said Jeff Bond, Mt. Vernon curriculum director.

Students are invited to participate in the program based on teacher recommendations and assessments, Bond said. Once the coordinators identify each student’s strengths, they’ll cater lesson plans to enhance those skills, he added.

Bond said about 100 of the 811 third-, fourth- and fifth-graders at the three elementary schools will be part of the program.

It’s important to accelerate lesson plans to meet the needs of students who have the potential to take on more advanced concepts than the majority of their classmates, he said.

“Just as we provide remediation for some groups of students, we have to challenge our students with higher abilities to help them accomplish what they’re capable of,” Bond said. “It’s our responsibility.”

If elementary-aged students aren’t challenged by the coursework, they can lose interest in it, Superintendent Shane Robbins said. The school doesn’t want those students to lose motivation and momentum simply because the coursework being offered isn’t challenging them.

“We need to keep that fire burning hot, so those students can continue achieving in middle school and high school,” he said.

Several months after the new program rolls out, educators will assess what’s working well and what areas need improvements, Robbins said.

Daniel Morgan is a reporter at the Greenfield Daily Reporter. He can be reached at (317) 477-3228 or dmorgan@greenfieldreporter.com.