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Parents push for advanced program

Studying forensic science and marine biology in the fourth grade. Reading The Odyssey, "Beowulf" and "Hamlet" in sixth grade. Playing the stock market in fifth grade.

Students taking part in the Programs for Achieving Children's Excellence (PACE) at the Burnt Hills-Ballston Lake School District are doing that and more. Dozens of parents addressed the district's board of education recently to ask for funding support for the program in the upcoming 2007 districtwide budget.

Some parents are asking the district to do more for gifted kids, saying the PACE program is too limited to meet the daily needs of their children, who spend most of their time in a traditional classroom.

"Kids are required to sit there in their regular classrooms, and they need to stay at the fifth grade curriculum level," said Theresa Brennan, who has a fifth grader enrolled in the PACE program at Stevens Elementary School. "Their teachers don't have the time to teach them at an advanced level. We know there's a tight budget, but there has to be a way to do more, maybe through distance learning."

In October 2000, the board of education made a commitment to challenge gifted children in both humanities/English and math. The PACE math curriculum offers elementary through high school students the chance to jump one to two years ahead of their grade-level peers. By seventh grade, the students study algebra; by 10th grade they are mastering pre-calculus.

During their high school years, PACE-registered kids may even qualify for college credits.

The PACE humanities/English program targets high-ability students starting in third grade.

"Throughout the programs, our goals are to get the kids to think deeper, use a variety of perspectives and devise numerous solutions," said Carrie Sunkes, PACE coordinator. "Even beyond this, there is so much class discussion; students and teachers challenge one another in debates and differing points of view. Everyone is challenged across the board."

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