Youth Excel for Higher Education

Small in stature, but academically advanced, a group of seventh graders are taking classes at Marshfield on campus in the afternoon.Peggy Thornton, district Talented and Gifted (TAG) coordinator and instructional coach, has been working with this group of students and said they have not been challenged in their previous classes.
“I hadn’t seen light in their faces towards academics for a couple of years,” Thornton said.
This year, 13 seventh grade students from Millicoma and Sunset are enrolled in Marshfield classes. Students were selected from the sixth grade advanced math and English intervention periods at their schools and given tests to determine who was should be sent to the high school.
The district officials determining which students should be taking classes realized it is unusual for seventh graders to take classes with high school students. Therefore, according to Thornton, test scores were not the only consideration in determining who would take high school classes. Thornton said, one’s maturity and capability to adapt to the high school classroom environment were also considered.
“We wanted them to be able to ask insightful questions . . . they really would be a part of the class and community in a positive fashion,” Thornton said.
Most of the seventh grade students participating in the program, named Excel, are TAG students. According to the National Association for the Gifted,“Gifted and talented students and those with high abilities need gifted educational programs that will challenge them in the regular classroom settings and enrichment and accelerated programs to enable them to make continuous progress in school.”
There are two main ways to become part of the Coos Bay TAG program. Either the students achieve a certain score on the state standardized test (OAKS), or a parental or teacher request for screening, is submitted. Many of the students have already been taking advanced classes at their current school and have exceeded what is available for them there.
“They’re moving ahead, and we’re honoring them as learners,” Thornton said.
The students are bused from their schools and have the opportunity to take up to two classes at MHS in the afternoon. On Fridays, the seventh graders meet with Thornton at Milner Crest to gauge how well they are doing with high school classes. The classes the seventh graders take vary for each student. Some take Integrated 1 for math and eighth grade Language Arts, which are typical classes for eighth graders, but advanced for seventh graders. Some of the students take both english and mathematics at the high school while others only take one of the two core classes. The students taking only one of the core classes at Marshfield take an elective period, or have a study hall period.
According to Chad Putman, Curriculum Director of the Coos Bay School District, the point is not to graduate the students early, but to challenge their intellect. He said allowing seventh graders to join the high school environment is giving them opportunities to set the bar higher. He also said he has observed that some students have previous knowledge of core subjects, and are at the same learning rate as eighth graders.
“That way we can get the best out of everyone,” Putman said.
There are downfalls to this program, however. Class sizes at Marshfield are typically large with a startling estimate of 34 students per Integrated 1 class and 25 students in the eighth grade English classes. Putman expressed his concern about crowding at MHS. Some of the seventh grade students expressed an interest in taking Spanish 1, for example, but they could not fit into already over-crowded Spanish classes.
“We had to draw the cutline so classes didn’t get overcrowded,” Putman said.
In the future, Putman and Thornton hope to give the seventh graders more opportunities, such as the ability to take classes like Spanish, history and the arts.
“We are removing the ceiling so that their pathway doesn’t get stunted or put on halt,” Thornton said.
According to seventh grader Mason Pittenger, the classes at MHS challenge him and are fun. Pittenger said he has good friends at Marshfield and Millicoma.
“A lot of my friends want me to stay there [Millicoma] for the rest of the day, but I like going here,” Pittenger said.