On an unusually warm and sunny October day, Ashley Archer took her class of Mariner sixth-graders outside to work on their reading projects.
Students chatted quietly in groups of five writing down points on paper or sometimes looking up words on school-issued iPads.
“The hope is that students work more as a collaborative group,” Archer said. “We try to do a lot more student-centered activities.”
For two hours a day, Archer teaches about 25 students at Mariner as part of Cape Henlopen's accelerated program, known as CAP for short. She teaches accelerated math and English every afternoon, after doing the same with a group of students at Beacon Middle in the morning.
This is the first school year that sixth-graders have been offered an accelerated option in Cape Henlopen School District. Only about 10 percent of students are accepted into the program, chosen by test scores, grades and parent and teacher recommendations.
Archer said she has flexibility within her two-hour block to extend lessons if students need extra time. At times, Archer said, students have insisted she leave math problems on the board until they can figure it out.
“They really like to take ownership,” Archer said. “They will work at it until they get it.”
In both math and English, students are learning at a sixth-grade level and higher.
Sixth-grader Taylor Ockels said she likes the faster pace. “If we were in a regular program, we'd be like, 'Come on, let's keep moving,'” she said.
Nathalie Lampron said she enjoys working with students who are on the same academic level as she is.
“I always felt like I needed something more challenging,” she said about her time in regular classes.
Sixth-grader Austin Futty said he likes the individualized attention he gets, if he needs it. The work is also challenging. In the first month of CAP classes, Austin said he has already written more papers than he did the entire school year of fifth grade.
Cape spends about $100,000 out of local funds to cover salary and benefits for sixth-grade CAP. Next year, the program will extend to seventh grade, and a second teacher will be hired at the cost of another $100,000. In 2017-18, one CAP teacher will teach math classes at both Beacon and Mariner and another will teach English.
Curriculum costs about $20,000, according to a district report. Fourth- through sixth-graders use curriculum published by Kendall Hunt: Project M3: Mentoring Mathematical Minds and The William & Mary Center for Gifted Education Language Arts.
The sixth-grade program is the latest extension of a fourth- and fifth-grade program that began in 2015. In the elementary schools, one teacher teaches math and English during a combined fourth- and fifth-grade class.
There is no CAP program for kindergarten to third grade, but all students are exposed to accelerated material throughout the year, said Donna Kolakowski, supervisor of elementary curriculum.
Third-graders receive accelerated instruction three times a week during small group instruction, and grades K-2 receive enrichment material depending on their study unit, she said.
In February, third-, fourth- and fifth-graders are recommended by parents and teachers for the accelerated program. Report card grades, Smarter Balanced state test results, math and reading tests and a Naglieri test are used to identify students for the program. The Naglieri test uses shapes and symbols to identify gifted children. About 10 percent of top performing fourth- and fifth-graders at each school are chosen for CAP. In sixth grade another 2 percent to 3 percent of students are added for a class size of about 25. Parents are notified at the end of the school year if their child is selected for CAP.