By Susan Riddell

Julie Bunnell explains the procedure for a science experiment testing pH levels of local water sources to 4th-grade students at the CELTIC Academy (Glasgow Independent). Photo by Amy Wallot, Sept. 18, 2012

Julie Bunnell explains the procedure for a science experiment testing pH levels of local water sources to 4th-grade students at the CELTIC Academy (Glasgow Independent). Photo by Amy Wallot, Sept. 18, 2012

They miss out on regular class time, but students attending the Creating Enriched Learning Through Innovative Curriculum (CELTIC) Academy say the out of class time is  worth it:

“We learned ahead of our grade level.”

“Here, we listen and do.”

“It helped me learn more about things we only studied for a short time.”

“It teaches you like (regular) school, but with higher-level questions.”

“It enhanced our content areas.”

“You got to learn things in a different way than you would in (regular) school.”

Enhancing learning and giving higher-achieving students an opportunity to dig deeper into content were key motivators in the creation of the academy, according to director Tina Steen.The CELTIC Academy is in its second year and is part of the Glasgow Independent school district. The academy is for students in grades 3-7 and is housed at the Happy Valley Learning Center.

Qualified students, mainly those identified as gifted and talented in mathematics, science or general intellect, are eligible for the academy and attend one day per week. Two teachers, mathematics teacher Michelle Lynch and science teacher Julie Bunnell, instruct about 40 per students through a collaborative effort.

Providing students with advanced problem-solving opportunities leads to extended learning, Steen said. The CELTIC Academy relies on lessons that are not necessarily knowledge based, but are multi-step in nature. This brings a deeper understanding of content to CELTIC students.

“Often times, there is no right or wrong answer, only one that can be or cannot be supported with data,” Steen said. “With group work being such an integral part of CELTIC, the students often teach each other better, quicker methods, especially in mathematics. If students are not ready for a certain higher skill, they are still able to succeed by solving the problem in another way. In addition, mini lessons are taught when individuals are ready to advance in skill.”

They said some lessons are planned independently based on subject, but others complement each other to bring mathematics and science together. This year, the CELTIC Academy is piloting a language arts class for 6th and 7th graders.

Students in each grade level are assessed at the beginning of the year to determine learning style, Bunnell said. Students with similar learning styles are sometimes grouped together for projects. Other times, they are not.

“We are able to engage students in project-based and inquiry learning that enrich the regular curriculum,” Bunnell said.

Lynch said that her and Bunnell’s classrooms differ from traditional classroom because of the “minds-on through hands-on approach” they foster.

A recent lesson they taught, called Bug Races, involved students making observations of physical characteristics of live darkling beetles. This lesson integrated both mathematics and science.

Students were taught to measure the distance of the beetle’s path and performed multiple trials before figuring the average of the distance traveled. The zigzag paths students observed from the races led to a study of insect defenses. Students then researched animal adaptations and behaviors that enable survival.

Lynch said this lesson worked so well because not only were mathematics and science tied together, but also because an extended period prevented the lesson from being cut short.

“The typical class period in a regular school is 45 minutes to one hour,” Lynch said. “At the CELTIC Academy, we have longer class times and don’t have to switch to another class when the bell rings. The longer class times allow students to delve deeper in the learning and extend to higher levels of thinking, while the hands-on activities engage the student.”

Students are assessed using daily formative assessments and project assessments with rubrics, and growth reports are handed out twice a year, Bunnell said.

“Our students also use math and science journals that extend learning and are used in a formative manner to evaluate student progress,” Bunnell said.

District officials say they have received positive feedback from parents about the academy as well.

A survey completed after the 2011-12 school year indicated that 98 percent of parents agreed or strongly agreed that the academy offered challenging and thought-provoking opportunities to the students, and 94 percent said the CELTIC Academy had been an overall beneficial experience for their child.

Kathie Anderson, gifted education consultant for the Kentucky Department of Education (KDE), said the instruction taking place at the CELTIC Academy corresponds to the gifted and talented education guidelines that KDE maintains.

“The regulation for Gifted Education, 704 KAR 3:835 (section 6: 5), state that for students grades 4-12 ‘There shall be multiple service delivery options with no single service option existing alone, districtwide, at a grade level,’” Anderson said. “It is important that districts offer services that are commensurate to students with the ability to perform at high levels.”

Steen said the district opened the academy because there was a high priority that each student be pushed to reach his or her full potential at or above those high levels.

The district “strives to implement exciting programs and cutting-edge initiatives to prepare students to be responsible citizens who can excel in a dynamic global society,” she said.

Tina Steen,, (270) 651-8801