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CHCCS program provides 'specialized programming' for gifted students, self-contains classes


Photos courtesy of Adobe Stock.

Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools’ Learning Environment for Advanced Programming — known as LEAP — intends to serve "profoundly gifted" students who "require specialized programming beyond what is provided by the regular educational setting" and is the highest level of gifted education in the school district.

Third grade students are placed in LEAP self-contained classrooms through eighth grade to supplement what the district calls an "extreme need" for advanced education.

Selection process

CHCCS begins identifying students for gifted services in third grade with a universal screening process, according to Kate Kennedy, the director of advanced learning and student leadership for the district.

Kennedy said each student is placed into a group based on race, ethnicity, socio-economic status and more by the state and then tested. She said the test is designed to measure aptitude and achievement. Every student who scores in the 90th percentile of their group is considered for the LEAP program, she said.

Students within the 90th percentile are evaluated by a panel that looks at both "teacher-pleasing and non-teacher-pleasing aspects of giftedness." According to Kennedy, intensity, disruption and difficulty with authority are all "non-teacher-pleasing" characteristics that are also aspects of giftedness.

Once the students have been evaluated and the district uses a racial equity impact assessment, Kennedy said students are then selected to be in LEAP. A racial equity impact assessment is a systematic examination of how different racial and ethnic groups will likely be affected by a proposed action or decision, according to CHCCS' website.

“When you put all those pieces together, what happens is, you start to see a strength profile emerge,” she said. And then students are identified based on the level of service need, with LEAP being the most extreme need.”

After selection by the panel, LEAP students attend Seawell Elementary School and Smith Middle School to learn in self-contained classrooms with other students in the program for their core classes.

The program ends in eighth grade, though LEAP students reach high school and max out of offered advanced math classes by their sophomore or junior years.

Kerrie Kurgat is the parent of a seventh grader in LEAP at Smith Middle School. 

Kurgat said she was initially worried about her student feeling lost and not receiving individual attention from teachers, but that it ended up being a good decision.

She said the friendships her child has made in the self-contained classrooms have been positive, and she also said that sports have really helped her child expand his friendships outside of the LEAP program. 

“They were able to challenge each other, support each other, laugh and have fun together, do sports together, so that that works out really well,” she said.

LEAP and self-contained classrooms

Kennedy said the giftedness displayed by LEAP students is rare, so it is difficult for teachers to properly help these students in a regular education environment. The self-contained classrooms are designed to group the students together to learn with highly trained teachers and have their needs met in one location, she said.

LEAP is designed to serve children with a "profound and severe need for a specialized program" in gifted education. The idea of self-contained classrooms was created in the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, and self-contained classrooms are generally used in special education for students who need moderately regimented educational or behavioral programs in school.

Brian Gibbs is an assistant professor of social studies and teacher education at California State University Los Angeles and former clinical faculty member in the School of Education at UNC. He said, in order to officially qualify as a special needs student, the student must have an IEP — an individual education program for a student with an intellectual or developmental disability — or a 504 accommodations plan, which indicates physical or mental impairment that limits one or more major life activities.

But, in LEAP, each student has an IDEP, an Individual Differentiated Education Program — not an IEP or 504.

Gibbs said that while self-contained classrooms can be helpful for students with specific gifted or educational needs — they can also create a segregated school. He said this is commonly seen in high schools in the Advanced Placement programs, where kids self-select their friend groups based on who they take classes with.

Kennedy said, that while gifted education can be a controversial topic, CHCCS is required by the state to offer gifted programs and to administer all programs fairly.

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