Green Bay Gifted Student Experiment Becomes Huge Success

Inside Green Bay, Wisconsin’ traditional Langlade Elementary School resides another program — and it is as far away from “traditional” as one can get. Called the School Within a School, it was created to provide learning opportunities for gifted students of the Green Bay School District and an average day is far from typical.

The School Within a School doesn’t operate like a regular schools. For starters, there are no such things as formal grades. If any grouping actually occurs, it is strictly by ability, not by age.

Students must pass rigorous academic standards to enroll in both programs and are among the top 5 percent of learners, Langlade principal Tammy VanDyke said. About half of students who apply are accepted, she said.

“I think students learn differently when working with other students who are at their advanced level,” she said. “It’s kind of new to them. They aren’t held back. If a fourth-grader is ready for fifth-grade math, that’s where she studies. Right now we have a third-grader doing seventh-grade math.”

The program’s popularity has started to attract applicants from outside the local school district. Administrators aren’t sure if they’re able to accommodate the outsiders, especially since the initial surge of popularity caught them unawares. VanDyke said she didn’t expect the program to grow as fast as it did.

The program initially opened its doors to students between the 2nd and 6th grade last fall, but there are already tentative plans to expand it to students in 1st and 7th grade next year. Not only that, but a similar program for the nearby Lombardi Middle School is also on the board and will start accepting students in grades 6th through 9th next year. The year after that, the Langlade program will move into a building all its own.

According to the district, opening up a charter school in order to accommodate more gifted students is not planned. In part, that is because the law requires that seats in a charter be allocated on the lottery basis, thus negating current admissions criteria.

The strict standards allow teachers to push students, Spanish teacher Shannon Goerke said. Students rotate among four teachers, similar to a middle school setting. They also spend some time each day in a “home room” with students their own age and grade level.

“It’s a completely different way of doing things,” Goerke said. “We have a lot more flexibility. Getting gifted students together, they can get what they need, rather than helping the kid next to them. When you put a group of gifted students together on a project, they want to work. They’re bringing each other up, not helping someone else catch up.”