Enriched classes enrich student learning on all levels

Linnea Shively, staff writer

As Edina High School reconsiders the addition of more enriched classes, the Edina Public Schools board must not overlook the benefits of ability-based classes. Enriched classes help not only students who require accelerated curriculum but also allow students in standard classes the personalized attention needed to succeed at a greater rate. At its core, personalized learning is meeting each student where they are in their educational journey, and the ability for students to participate in classes of different levels is essential to achieving this goal. 

Separate classes based on ability level allow teachers to more specifically target the needs of their students. “Each student needs high-quality support, and that support won’t look the same for each student,” former Edina School Board member Amir Gharbi said in his report on the need for enriched classes at all levels, “Honoring Student Differences.” Although some range in ability is beneficial within classes, large ranges create a lack of appropriately challenging material. 

For students performing above grade-level, separate enriched classes provide a more stimulating learning environment while maintaining balance. EHS’s Advanced Placement (AP) curriculum allows students to take more rigorous classes, but some high achieving students often overwhelm themselves with these AP classes. “We’re asking kids to do things that it’s not natural for them to do sometimes, and then it’s putting undue pressure to stand out in a way that they’re making themselves basically sick. It should be more appropriately matched,” EPS teacher of fifteen years Linda Friede said. By providing enriched classes along with AP classes, motivated students are still able to have a more robust curriculum without being required to take all college-level courses as high schoolers. 

Given that  mental health conditions, such as anxiety and depression, are a common concern for today’s teenagers, different levels of classes relieve the pressure to take multiple AP courses for above-grade-level students. Instead, these students can take a mix of enriched classes and AP classes that they are passionate about, while still maintaining a healthy balance between school and extracurriculars. 

Homogenous ability-based classes also benefit students in standard classes. In her experience as a math teacher who specialized in working with below-grade-level students, Friede believes separate classes allow these students a chance to grow at a faster rate than if they were in heterogeneous classes. “[Below grade level students] have an opportunity to shine [in the classroom] for the first time in their lives. They’ve never been a leader, but you have the chance for them to understand what it feels like [in these classes],” Friede said. 

In addition to homogenous classes, targeted attention is also needed in order to facilitate individual student growth. “With that type of support, [students] can go way beyond grade level,” Friede said. She found that especially in math classes, providing supplemental teaching on background skills allowed students to get back on track with peers at a faster rate. Targeted attention is logistically easier for a teacher to provide in a homogenous classroom in which ability levels are similar. Eventually, this model allows students who were previously underperforming the chance to take more robust enriched courses in their areas of strength or interest.  

A greater variety of classes also provides students with “on-ramps” and “off-ramps,” which empowers them to make the best educational choice for themselves. This flexible strategy allows students to easily try different level classes (on-ramps), but does not trap students in a certain path by allowing students to switch classes (off-ramps). By providing different difficulty levels for classes, students are able to try an enriched class to determine if it is a correct fit while not trapping themselves in the rigor of an AP class. For example, a student interested in Biology can take Enriched Biology, and can then make an educated decision on whether they should choose to take AP Biology the following year. Instead of being forced to jump from standard science to AP science, students are more adequately prepared for AP classes by testing out an enriched option. 

For EPS, the addition of enriched classes as stated in school board policy 601 creates consistency throughout the district in the level of courses offered by filling in gaps. “The changes are not as sweeping as have been depicted,” current EPS School Board member Owen Michaelson explained. In fact, the changes would only add seven classes across grades 3-12, such as Enriched Language Arts from 6th-10th grade, providing an opportunity for students to remain in an accelerated program before reaching AP United States Literature and Language in 11th grade. However, the addition of these challenging, enriched classes is essential to promoting continuous student growth from elementary school through high school. 

Ultimately, helping all students develop curiosity, critical thinking skills, and knowledge should be the goal of education. “The key to excellence is viewing students as individuals and celebrating their personal growth,” Gharbi said. Only by providing the opportunity for  robust enriched programs in addition to standard curriculum, and allowing students to determine their own path based on interests and strengths will each student reach their full potential and achieve EPS’ vision of excellence.