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New class challenges higher-level learners

School calendar

Oct. 3: Board of Education meeting, West High School Library, 6 p.m.

Oct. 4: Homecoming Car Show, 4 p.m., front drive, West High, 1201 W. New York St., Aurora.

Oct. 6: Homecoming Parade, 3 p.m.; Powder Puff game, 6:30 p.m. in the stadium.

Oct. 7: Homecoming football game against Naperville North, 7:30 p.m. in stadium.

Oct. 10: No school, K-12 – Columbus Day

Updated: November 30, 2011 12:39AM

Something remarkable is taking place in a Jewel Middle School classroom.

The room is made up of 30 sixth-graders from across the district who are pushing themselves to new academic heights. They are an elite group — all have scored at the 95th percentile or higher on standardized tests in math, language arts and science.

For the first time, the district is putting together these top academic achievers from one grade into a single class so they can challenge and encourage each other throughout the day.

“For the pace in which these kids can learn, and the depth of their understanding, it’s really a rich learning environment,” said Julie Esparza, district Gifted and Talented Program coordinator.

In addition to high-level instruction in math, language arts and science, the students are studying world languages — including Spanish, French, Chinese, German and Latin — through an innovative online course.

They’ve proven they can handle — and very much enjoy — a challenge.

“This group functions at such a high level the teacher (Rick Lowy) takes it up a higher notch,” Esparza said.

The students, for example, first read a historical fiction book and then write their own narratives as if they lived during that time. They not only learn math concepts, but they also research and write reports on the mathematicians themselves.

This program — which will expand to the seventh and eighth grades in the next two years — is just one example of the growth of the West Aurora School District’s Gifted and Talented Program in the past several years.

This year the district also added a sixth-grade science enrichment class in all four middle schools, which will expand to seventh and eighth grades in the coming years. Already sixth- through eighth-graders have the opportunity for more challenging instruction in math and language arts. There are about 100 to 120 students in each gifted and talented subject group.

Education experts believe it’s imperative to provide appropriate instruction for every level. While budget cuts in some districts have hurt their ability to provide gifted instruction, West Aurora is “a little bit unique in that the district is adding services,” Esparza said.

By providing gifted education to those who need it, it’s easier for teachers to make sure every student meets or exceeds federally mandated adequate yearly progress targets, she said.

Esparza credits the West Aurora School Board and Superintendent Jim Rydland for identifying the need to provide adequate education at all achievement levels. The district has strengthened student learning for all students in recent years by lengthening the school day and increasing instruction time in core subjects. It also has significantly upgraded its math and science curriculum, integrating them with Web resources. And this year it launched all-day kindergarten to help all students get off to a more successful start in their formal education.

The sixth-graders in the Jewel group are using laptops and working with teacher Joy Bieker in their world language classes. The curriculum is through the Middlebury Interactive Languages, which is “thrilled” that West Aurora is offering the program to sixth-graders, Esparza said.

“I visit the classroom a lot,” she said. “It’s just so much fun to watch these kids interact with each other and be so excited about school. It’s very rewarding.”


Answer to previous quiz: Freeman Elementary was named for Joseph Hewett Freeman, who led both the East and West Aurora districts. Beacon reader Christina Osmolak was the first to provide the correct answer.

New quiz: The namesake of this school led the school district as well as the State Teachers Association at the same time. A West High T-shirt will be awarded to the first reader who delivers the correct answer to me at or 630-301-5044. For more information about District 129, visit

Mike Chapin is the community relations director for West Aurora School District 129.

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