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Publish Date: 4/17/2005

Coal Ridge program is for gifted

FIRESTONE — Gifted and talented students in the Tri-Towns will have new academic opportunities next year.

Coal Ridge Middle School is opening an Honors Academy, or a school within a school, for its advanced students.

More than 100 families expressed interest in the academy last week at two public information meetings.

“The Honors Academy will give students a running start into high school because they’ll be better prepared to take college preparatory and advanced placement classes,” said Coal Ridge principal Paul Talafuse.

The idea for the Honors Academy came from teachers who realized that some students learn faster than others and need additional opportunities.

The plan has been in the works for a couple of years, Veronda said, but because the old Frederick Middle School was bursting at the seams, adding advanced classes wasn’t feasible.

“We’re doing this with existing staff because of the budget and money,” assistant principal Nancy Veronda said. “When the mill levy (override) did not pass last November we were still committed to this — teachers and administration.”

The honors classes will be taught by existing teachers in all three middle school grades.

Many of Coal Ridge’s students have the “ability to perform at a higher level than most kids,” said math teacher Leroy van der Vegt. “This will push them to hone in on some details, let them get more in-depth, applying more real-world scenarios.”

With major growth in the Tri-Towns over the past four years, the schools have gotten bigger and opened the door for more creative curricula, he added.

“We look at our program as being custom-tailored to the needs of parents and students,” van der Vegt said. “We test our children formally and informally and build curriculums around what their needs are. That is key to what makes our Honors Academy unique in this district.”

Eight teachers per grade level will be teaching honors courses, he said. Along with their core classes, like language arts, math, science and social studies, students in the Honors Academy will also be able to participate in special electives classes, called Encore.

As part of that program, sixth- and seventh-graders can take classes such as yoga, jazz band, bicycling, rock climbing and introduction to weight training.

Encore is a way to “give them a break. It gives their brain a break,” said Jeff Conway, a physical education teacher at the school.

He added that kids who participate in extracurricular activities are those who “excel in academics.”

Parents and students said they were excited by the opportunity as they listened to a presentation Thursday evening in the Coal Ridge community room.

Massiel Puentes dragged her parents to the meeting because she wants to “take more challenging classes. They are not challenging now, in math or language arts,” she said.

The 12-year-old wants to have a career in which she can use math, such as a code breaker for law enforcement. The sixth-grader said teachers told her that she should already be taking pre-algebra because she is so far ahead in math.

In the new honors program, Puentes will be able to take a high school-level Algebra 1 class in eighth grade.

Parents who want to register their children for the Honors Academy have until May 1 to submit their paperwork. Students will be accepted based on a combination of grade-point average; parent, teacher or community referrals; and Colorado Student Assessment Program scores.

Students should know whether they have been accepted to the Honors Academy by May 10, Veronda said.

Paula Aven Gladych can be reached at 303-684-5211, or by e-mail at

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