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Students at Marana Unified School District have the opportunity to enter accelerated learning curriculum in Bright Start classes.

Marana Unified School District locations have the chance to learn at an accelerated pace thanks to a unique learning curriculum. The Bright Start Talent Development program is available in kindergarten through second grade at Coyote Trail Elementary, Rattlesnake Ridge Elementary and Twin Peaks K-8, and features project-based learning at a speed better suited for students with strong foundations in math and reading.

“We wanted to service our students who are identified as ‘gifted’ in a different way, and work with them right from the start,” said Twin Peaks K-8 principal Dondi Luce. “Our Talent Development program does curriculum at a little bit of a faster pace, but the main goal is to go a lot deeper.” 

Luce made the initial proposition for the program after seeing the success of the district’s “Gifted & Talented Education” program in later grades, and realized a need for dedicated classes to younger students. The accelerated education aims to “maximize and nurture the interdisciplinary potential” for students in the areas of intellectual development, creative endeavors, social emotional needs, leadership ability and fine arts. 

The district maintains there is no universal definition for a ‘gifted student’ other than that they are a population who has different educational needs. MUSD identifies gifted students as in or above the 97th percentile in any one area of the Cognitive Abilities Assessment.

The district’s larger Gifted Learners program traditionally identifies its students through a Cognitive Abilities test, however, according to Luce, children in kindergarten to second grade rarely qualify with this test. In contrast, the Bright Start program begins with an observational analysis submitted by parents. 

“Gifted learners learn with fewer repetitions, so they learn a lot more quickly,” Luce said. “So the question is what do you do with all that extra time? And we dedicate it to more enriching, project-based learning.”

With the Bright Start students’ strengths in reading and math, they are encouraged to work on projects both on their own and in groups. 

“We take real-world situations and turn them into project-based activities,” said second grade Bright Start teacher Julie Erbe. “In a traditional classroom, there’s just not enough time to do that.” 

Bright Start classes are organized by grade, with a dedicated classrooms for kindergarten, first and second, and includes roughly 25 students. MUSD’s total Gifted Learners program services approximately 1,700 students. In the spring of second grade, Bright Start students are screened before entering further Gifted Learner classes, and can continue on into traditional classes or Gifted Learning classes. 

“We allow them to take the lead in these projects,” said Bright Start Kindergarten teacher Martha Bishop. “It gives them a lot of buy-in to their learning… Project-based learning is more than STEM.”

Although still in its first few years, staff are optimistic about the Bright Start program, and have already seen promising results in the affiliated classes. For instance, students in the Kindergarten-level Bright Start class are reading at an average of first and second grade levels, while students in the first grade-level Bright Start class are reading at upwards of a fifth grade level. 

“By putting these children into this type of group setting, we’ve seen huge gains in their writing and reading,” Bishop said. “Because we can push them, we get to see them grow so much.” 

Bishop has also seen students who traditionally struggle to work in groups become engaged with others when learning in the Bright Start program. 

“We’ve found our children have flourished with this,” Luce said. “What we’ve found is when we’ve put them together, they’ve gone further than we ever would have thought they would. They just took off.” 

For more information, and for an application, contact any of the participating school’s offices.

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