MPA offers an academic program that is designed to stretch the academic level and interests of cognitively gifted learners whose abilities exceed typical age-defined models. Our dynamic curriculum blends traditional methods with innovative options necessary to build an independent thinker. We offer an eclectic approach, choosing the best strategies in gifted education for our students with the intent to intrigue and maintain a child’s love of learning.
MPA students don’t just study information, they discover how to ask questions, seek answers, and explore topics in great depth. This is accomplished through hands-on learning experiences, recognition of different learning styles, understanding of a gifted child’s asynchronous development, and a focus on higher-order thinking skills.
Our curriculum goal is to develop fluent, original thinkers who take an active role in their learning process. Instruction is integrated across disciplines. We intend to be visionary in our approach, knowing that these students have the ability to reach high goals and become high achievers if their educational needs are met.
MPA’s educational program focuses on developing the whole child. It addresses the intellectual/academic, social/emotional, as well as physical/health needs of each learner. It doesn’t focus on just content knowledge, but also skills that encourage students to think critically and communicate effectively. We provide a learner-centered environment that looks to prepare our students for a successful future in work and life.
We know that gifted children have special needs. They learn best in an enriched environment designed to develop their skills, as well as service their different intellectual, social, and emotional needs. True learning involves the development of the "whole child", with the support they need to develop high level critical and creative thinking skills.
Our curriculum offers more density, complexity, and moves at a faster pace than is available in typical school environments. Children are also afforded the opportunity to interact and build friendships with their intellectual peers.
At Menlo Park Academy, we provide gifted classrooms at all grade levels. In many traditional classrooms, approximately 1/3 of the school year is spent reviewing information. For gifted students, this repetition and slow pace can be frustrating and ultimately detrimental to their learning processes.
An individualized learning plan called a Written Education Plan (WEP) is created for each student at Menlo Park Academy so that they can work at an appropriate pace and accelerate in areas where they have strong interests and abilities. They receive support from faculty members who understand their unique and special needs.
These gifted children are able to learn and grow with their peers and feel a sense of belonging that may not be normally found in other classrooms where they feel different, and often attempt to pretend they don't know the answers so that they "fit in". Here, they can be truly challenged to work towards achieving their full potential.
Menlo Park Academy is a school environment that provides an understanding of the unique qualities of gifted children and the common asynchronous development of their emotional, spiritual, physical, and academic abilities. Viewing each learner as a whole is at the core of our educational model.
Many gifted children experience high emotional intensity, and that emotion can often be matched by intellectual level. “The same sensitivity that enables a child to acquire information and comprehend it at a different level than traditional age peers can also challenge that child’s ability to manage the reactive emotions.”1
MPA students form friendships with a diverse group of academically-oriented learners with advanced abilities. Our program addresses common issues with perfectionism that can frequently occur when gifted children “set impossibly high standards for themselves and are prone to complicated, stress-related behavioral issues.”1
Our pillars in this delivery support our whole child approach to learning and include:
The idea of the name Menlo Park for our school came from Thomas Edison’s famous “Invention Factory” in Menlo Park, New Jersey. Mr. Edison grew up in Milan, Ohio, which is just about 25 miles southwest of the school. In school, his teacher thought he was “slow” so his mother home-schooled him. At Menlo Park Academy, we provide a creative, stimulating, innovative environment for gifted children, like the Invention Factory did for Edison and his peers.
Innovation, or creating something new, is a concept that is core to MPA’s educational program. We encourage our students and faculty members to think “outside the box” in completing projects and creating lessons.
Our program is inquiry-based and integrates technology across all grades. Faculty and students utilize technology every day. All students participate in a technology course that focuses on continuing to build and grow students’ innate interest in technology.
Students are offered the opportunity to develop projects that tie to classroom instruction across grade levels and subjects. Independent studies are also used as an important tool to challenge students and allow them to explore their varied interests.
MPA is a school environment where parents and teachers partner together to reach milestones in both instruction and experiences through in-school activities and outside events. Instruction doesn’t just occur in the classroom through textbooks, but through stimulating experiences, in-depth projects, and outside trips. We provide a truly hands-on learning program that encourages deep exploration into topics of interest for our gifted learners.
In the report, “21st Century Skills, Education & Competitiveness: A Resource and Policy Guide”, the top skills that employers cited as the most important for recently hired graduates were: 1) professionalism/work ethic, 2) oral and written communications, 3) teamwork and collaboration, and 4) critical thinking and problem solving.
At MPA, we strive to prepare our students for life. We look to instill these skills in each learner by integrating these concepts across the curriculum.
MPA’s approach to homework assures that the work is brief, relevant to the lesson, and extends learning. We address 3 main areas – A) parent partnerships, B) appropriate time and level, and C) feedback.
A) Parent Partnerships – Our faculty members ask that parents partner with them in order to facilitate homework completion, but that they do not assist with homework content. It is important for faculty members to be aware if there are concepts that students have not grasped. Parents who assist their child(ren) with teaching the content also risk their child(ren) becoming dependent on the one-on-one time provided – the student may learn that they don’t need to pay attention in class because their parent will just explain it to them at home later. As much as we all want every child to succeed, it is critical that student work is completed autonomously.
The parent role is to set a time and environment conducive to learning and guide their child(ren) in focusing appropriately on that time. Provide resources if necessary, but refrain from too much instruction.
B. Appropriateness – The amount of time students will spend on homework will gradually increase as they progress in grade levels. Homework amounts will also vary based on other projects and assignments. Our youngest students benefit from learning these important study habits at an early age.
Homework is assigned at an appropriate instructional level that matches the student’s skills and abilities and has a clear purpose. Homework is not busy work, but intended to reinforce learning, extend a lesson, or prepare for a future assignment or exam. This may mean that students in the same class have different homework assignments depending on their needs.
C. Feedback – Students receive feedback on their homework when appropriate, which helps the child experience the results of their efforts and provides a forum for learning from mistakes, persevering and learning from the ideas and experiences of others.
MPA’s grading practices focus on learning and providing meaningful feedback to students and their parents. The practice considers the relevance and use of both summative and formative assessments.
Summative assessments are given after completing the instruction and students are ready to show mastery of a topic. They normally gauge student knowledge at a particular point in time relative to the course content and occur after the instruction. Summative assessments are items such as chapter tests, final draft papers, projects, and performances. These assessments make up a significant majority of a student's achievement grade because they demonstrate mastery of unit goals and objectives as well as standards.
Formative assessments are a core part of the instruction process. They often provide the information a teacher needs to adjust teaching during the unit of instruction. The main intent is to provide feedback to both the student and teacher so that instruction can be adjusted. These may include items such as a pop quiz, teacher observations, drafts of a paper, and notebook checks.
Non-academic items are communicated separately from the student’s academic achievement. These include items such as attendance, punctuality, attitude, class participation, and homework (if it is based solely on completion). These items have a place in the evaluation of a student but are not a measure of the student’s academic achievement.
Letter grades follow a standard 4.0 grading scale (see current grading scale for reference). Our youngest learners receive different indicators of achievement on their report cards that allow for an opportunity for more descriptive information on student progress.
Many of our students have advanced vocabulary and reading abilities. Students are assessed and placed into leveled reading groups in each classroom. “Those gifted in reading have a unique ability to perceive relationships, solve problems, demonstrate observational skills, and to grasp abstract ideas quickly” (Witty, 1971).
Even though many of our Kindergarten students begin their formal education already reading (spontaneous readers), there are many reading skills that must be learned. We blend a Phonics and Whole Language approach to assure each child’s learning style is addressed. In grades K-4, every class has a time set aside each day for Sustained Silent Reading (SSR) that we call DEAR (Drop Everything And Read) time.
“Gifted readers are so advanced that they have little to gain from the reading materials and activities normally given to others of their age and grade. They require far less drill and practice than their peers (Witty, 1985). Gifted readers have special needs just as other exceptional learners do. The greater the ability in reading, the greater the need for a special program commensurate with that ability (Hoskisson & Tompkins, 1987; Wallen, 1974). Gifted readers benefit from special programs and may be penalized if not provided with special attention to help achieve full potential (Tuttle, 1987). In short, they need the same diagnostically based instruction that should be afforded to all learners (Bond & Bond, 1983; Carr, 1984; Rupley, 1984).”
“Researchers, (Bartelo & Cornette, 1982; Bagaj, 1968; Cornette & Bartelo, 1982; and Sakiey, 1980) have presented some general guidelines for reading instruction for gifted students:
MPA uses a variety of these strategies in our classrooms and strives to reach the higher levels of Bloom’s Taxonomy during instruction.
We agree with Dr. David Levande when he says, “To grow intellectually, gifted students need challenging books. They need fiction with complex plots and carefully developed characters, and informational books that explore topics in depth. They should read books and periodicals that spark their imaginations, broaden their horizons, and cause them to wonder and question.”
MPA’s educational program focuses on interactive problem-solving tasks, not just on rote learning. There is less time spent on just recalling information, and more spent on analyzing and evaluating. Focus on the 4C’s – Critical Thinking and Problem Solving, Communication, Collaboration, and Creativity and Innovation – is at the base of this model. The attributes of a 21st Century learning environment include:
Integrated & Interdisciplinary Technologies and Media
Project-Based & Research-Driven
21st Century Skills
Relevant, Rigorous, and Real-world
Refer to www.21stCenturySchools.com for more information.
At MPA we utilize various strategies to create a learning environment conducive to the gifted learner. Accelerating (whole-grade or subject), telescoping, compacting, ability/flexible groupings, differentiating, and team teaching are all strategies that may be used in our classrooms. MPA recognizes that gifted students can benefit from acceleration options, either whole grade or by subject. The school has an acceleration policy that explains the process for these situations. Because our core program is already advanced, these needs are not seen as often as may otherwise be necessary in a school that provides a program with a more traditional pace and curriculum. Students begin at a base that is one grade level above in both Math and Language Arts. Gifted students need less time for mastery of basic material due to their ability to learn at an accelerated pace, their capacity to understand in greater depth and complexity, and their interests that vary from those of their age peers. Pacing is accelerated to support students who learn more quickly (Adapted with permission from Joyce VanTassel-Baska). When appropriate, curriculum compacting will be utilized to make the time students spend learning to be as effective and meaningful as possible. These methods of curriculum design will allow for students to participate in learning experiences that are deeper in breadth and width than a traditional curriculum would allow. Overall, MPA provides opportunities for whole grade acceleration for those instances where the student will benefit most from being placed in another grade. For subject acceleration, students are assessed each year in both math and reading and may be recommended for acceleration in one or both of these subjects. These placements can also be requested by a parent, per our acceleration policy. MPA also offers a credit flexibility plan that allows for our middle grade learners to earn high school credits in several subjects. See our credit flexibility policy and plan for more details as the offerings change frequently.
MPA offers a base core curriculum that is based on the state standards for the core subject areas of Math, Language Arts, Science and Social Studies. We then layer the encore courses of Technology, Art, Music, World Languages, and Health/Physical Education. Our encore offerings also include student-selected elective options that vary by grade level. Additional lessons in character education, social and emotional needs, student success skills, and the arts are weaved throughout the coursework and enriched with field trips, assemblies, contests, and/or after-school clubs.
Language Arts, Math, Science, Social Studies
Art, Health, Music, Technology, Physical Education, World Languages
Assemblies, Character Education, Clubs, Contests, Electives, Field Trips, Guidance Services
Because gifted children begin each year with strong knowledge in many areas and have the ability to grasp concepts at a faster pace, students in our school are able to take advantage of a wide array of enrichment options and experiences.
Each grading period our students have the opportunity to participate in a selection of elective options. These are built into the schedule for each grade. Offerings may include topics such as Creative Writing, Public Speaking & Debate, Organizational Skills, Robotics, etc.
In an effort to provide an engaging and stimulating learning environment, faculty members plan several field trips, assemblies, and activities each year. These events are tied directly to the curriculum and are often timely (i.e. President’s Assembly around President’s Day). We are thrilled to be able to include these components in our program and know that they are a key to providing the students a deeper knowledge and understanding of topics learned.
According to Karnes & Riley, 1996, “students gain in a multitude of dimensions by participating in contests and competitions. Their knowledge bases are expanded in the specific areas of the contests, along with the concepts and skills needed for participation. Gains are made in process skills, personal and interpersonal development, and product production. The process skills of creative problem finding and solving, critical and creative thinking, leadership, group dynamics, goal-setting, and communication skills are used. Self-directed learning and a sense of autonomy are also enhanced. When teams are involved, cooperative learning can be strengthened.”
We invite our students to participate in a variety of contests and competitions. Some are local, such as our own Science Fair and Young Authors Conference, some are regional, and some are national/international via the Internet. Varying opportunities are available by grade level which allow our students to both flourish in an area that is their strength, as well as learn to deal with the disappointment of not winning every time in every area. Our school environment provides a rare opportunity to compete with a group of cognitively similar peers.
Educator and presenter Mary Hennenfent says, “As educators of gifted children, we have the opportunity to provide our students with the social skills necessary to work on group projects. We can also challenge their problem-solving abilities in a way that connects to the real world. Project-based learning is an excellent way to meet this goal. Students are highly motivated by problems that make them perplexed. They need to take the time to think and make meaningful discoveries. Problem-based learning is a transferable process that spans curricular content.”At MPA, faculty members integrate projects and problem-solving approaches throughout the curriculum. Students have frequent opportunities to work individually and in groups creating real-world displays, books, brochures, and 3-D projects.
As a part of our whole child approach at MPA, we provide guidance to our students in several ways. We host peer group sessions on varying topics depending on grade level. These services are invaluable to our student development. We also provide guidance for students on secondary school options.
MPA offers after-school clubs for students to participate in additional activities with their peers. We utilize our faculty members as well as engage with local organizations to provide optional items of student interest such as chess club, boy and girl scouts, recreational sports, science club, and art classes. These vary based on interest and availability.
Classroom Management Model
As a part of MPA’s whole child approach to learning, the school presents a classroom management style that integrates the student’s social & academic learning. We seek to allow learners the opportunity to be themselves, have a choice in their educational process, and learn the skills of self-control, respect, and self-management.
Social learning is as important to student success as academic learning. The highest levels of cognitive growth occur through exploration and discovery as well as social interactions with peers. Our teachers are not just instructors or presenters of knowledge, but guides and partners on the student’s journey to acquire and apply knowledge.
We currently use the Responsive Classroom model in our classrooms.