Elkhart high ability students excelling as PEP program grows

By: Katherine Rufener Email
By: Katherine Rufener Email

For the most part, kids learn the same subjects from school to school, subjects like math and science, but kids in Elkhart Community School’s PEP program are studying subjects and material well beyond their years.

5th grade teacher Phyllis Herczeg says of her class, “We're studying force and motion. We started off with a force and motion unit, and now we are doing a roller coaster unit where they're building they're own roller coasters. And that is actually for a tenth through twelfth grade level.”

PEP stands for providing for exceptional potential, and exceptional is exactly what these kids are in the classroom.

PEP student Alexa Pfister explained, “We're more advanced, and if we weren't in this class and this class wasn't here at Pinewood we wouldn't be enjoying ourselves. We would be sitting there being bored, and I love school. So, that wouldn't be something that I would enjoy.

The program has been around for more than 30 years. First graders take a test that determines whether they should be placed in PEP or not. Then, kids who enter the program stay in it through the sixth grade.

Teachers receive specific training on how to best educate PEP kids, because when it comes to how they learn, they're quite different from their peers.

Ranee Robinson has children in the PEP program and says of the teachers, “Because the teachers understand that the children are different and that they … they think differently, they live in a world differently, there is no box for them, that they embrace that.”

“Some of them are, actually almost all of them are, high ability students themselves,” Supervisor for the high ability program Faith Schultz said. “So, they know what it's like to sit in the classroom and have nothing to do.”

But, it's that out of the box thinking that keeps them interested.

Herczeg said, “We go much more in depth, and we try to keep the kids interest up by giving them a choice.”

PEP has been so successful, that many parents who were in the program themselves when they were in school have stayed in the area or moved back so that their own kids can participate.

Right now, PEP is only available for second through sixth graders at Pinewood Elementary, second and third graders at Bristol and second and third graders at Cleveland. However soon, the school system plans on expanding it.

Fourth grade PEP classes will be added at both Bristol and Cleveland, and Elkhart Community Schools plan to add a PEP grade for every year after until all three schools offer high ability classes through the sixth grade.

It's a plan pep parents and kids say they're behind 100 percent. “If you have the potential, I think you should work on it, because if you can be the best that you can be, that's what you should strive for,” sixth grader Rosie Krider said.

PEP parent Chris Largent continued, “What parent doesn't want their children to have the best? Further them. Offer them every challenge that's available.”

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