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New academy would raise the academic bar for kindergartners

Socratic lessons involving robotics, physics, etymology and creative writing aren’t traditional aspects of most elementary school classrooms — especially those filled with 5 year olds.

With the launch of its Modern Scholars Academy next fall, Adams Elementary School aims to change that and attract some families in the process, said Newport-Mesa Unified School District board member Vicki Snell.

The district will host an information night for parents at 6 p.m. Wednesday in the Adams Elementary multipurpose room to explain the academy, which will cater to high-performing students.

While traditional kindergarten classes focus on a broad range of topics, the Modern Scholars Academy will provide students with more specialized knowledge of math, writing and science concepts using the Socratic method, Snell said.

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The Socratic method is a form of discussion intended to stimulate critical thinking.

“Neighborhood parents have a concern that the curriculum isn’t rigorous enough,” Snell said. “This is a way to make them feel that we’re addressing that issue, even though I know the curriculum in all of the classrooms is rigorous.”

Newport-Mesa has been working over the past several months to dispel longstanding misconceptions that officials believe are causing families to abandon their neighborhood schools for other districts or private schools.

Families often point to lower test scores and a perceived reputation of subpar academics in Westside schools as their reasons for leaving the district. Snell hopes that the trend, which is especially profound at Adams Elementary in the Mesa Verde neighborhood, will stop with the introduction of the academy.

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Adams Elementary teachers who are selected to teach the advanced classes will complete a two-year course of study in partnership with UC Irvine to prepare for the academy.

Incoming kindergarten students who demonstrate high academic skills during screening will be admitted into the academy. Screening will begin in January.

The idea is that the program will expand into one that encompasses kindergarten through sixth grade in future years.

The program will also prepare elementary students for Advanced Placement courses in junior high and high school, Snell said.

“This is a good way for parents to give the school a try,” she said.


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