Two local 8th graders are taking their math class at Riverside Brookfield High School this year instead of at their middle school.
Cole Plepel of L.J. Hauser Junior High School and an eighth grader from S.E. Gross Middle School in Brookfield whose family declined to participate in this story have been taking math classes a grade up from their classmates ever since entering middle school. While their 8th grade classmates are taking algebra Plepel and the student from Gross spend the first period of their school day at RBHS taking an Honors Geometry class with high school freshmen.
They appear to be the first eighth graders to take a class at RBHS in about a decade.
At Lyons Township High School 40 eighth graders start their school day by taking Honors Geometry at LTHS before returning to their respective schools for the rest of the school day.
At Hauser and Gross students are evaluated at the end of fifth grade prior to entering middle school. If their test scores, classroom performance, teacher recommendations, and social and emotional maturity indicate that they could benefit from what is termed a double acceleration they are placed in 7th grade math as 6th graders. Before students are put on the double accelerated track to take math a grade up from their classmates school officials also consult with the student and the student’s parents to see if the student would be comfortable taking a class with kids who are a year older.
“When kids are demonstrating aptitude beyond even our advanced program we are looking at potential opportunities for double advance,” said Meryl Brownlow, the Assistant Superintendent for Curriculum & Instruction at Riverside Elementary School District 96.
Double advancement is rare and reserved for students of exceptional ability. Typically strong students just take an advanced version of the regular grade level course. For example, this year 48 Hauser eighth graders, or about 23 percent of Hauser eighth graders, are in the advanced math track which means that they take Algebra in 8th grade and are on track to take Geometry as freshmen in high school. That’s the class Plepel took as a 7th grader.
Plepel showed signs of remarkable intelligence early. As a little boy his parents gave him basic math problems which he handled with ease. They then started making the problems harder and harder but had still had a hard time stumping their only child who would ask for more problems. Plepel began solving some simple algebra problems while still in 1st grade.
“He enjoyed it,” said Chanda Plepel, Cole’s mother. “I mean it would be to the point where he didn’t want to stop, but we would have to stop because there are others things in life than just sitting there doing math problems.”
Plepel said that taking the class at RB is no big deal.
“It’s not much different from another math class,” Cole Plepel said.
Plepel already knew a few kids in his Honors Geometry from Hauser where he took math with 8th graders last years, but other high school freshmen in the class were surprised to find two eighth graders in their class.
“They seemed somewhat surprised at first when I said that I was an eighth grader, but then that’s about it,” Plepel said.
Some of Plepel’s Hauser classmates were surprised to find out he goes to RB for math.
“Some people have been surprised when I said that I was taking math at the high school,” Plepel said.
“A lot of people are surprised that I have to go to a different school for math.”
Both Plepel and the Gross student are around six feet tall, much taller than the average high school freshman, so they don’t look out of place in a high school class.
Plepel, who has had straight A’s at Hauser, loves school and learning. He’s likes math but is not sure if it is his favorite subject.
“I’m not sure what I would say my favorite subject is,” Plepel said. “I certainly like the subject of math. I also like reading; science is also interesting, I like my band class, history can also be an interesting class. Most of the encore classes I’ve taken at Hauser have also been interesting.”
Last year Plepel was a finalist in the National History Bee.
Plepel is also a talented musician who plays percussion instruments. This past weekend Plepel auditioned for and was awarded a Protégé Philharmonic Fellowship to play in the Chicago Orchestral Academy which is the youth arm of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra.
Because Plepel plays in the jazz band and wind ensemble at Hauser he needs to be at Hauser at 7 a.m. three days a week for practice. On those mornings his mother or father take him to Hauser and then drive him back to RB for the Honors Geometry class that begins at 8 a.m. When the 55-minute RBHS class is over his mother typically drives him back to Hauser for the rest of the school day.
“It’s a lot of going back and forth,” Plepel said.
Because District 95 has a bus system and S.E. Gross is more than a mile away from RBHS the Gross student takes a school bus to Gross after the class at RBHS.
This year six Hauser 7th graders are taking the advanced 8th grade math class so it seems certain that there will be more 8th graders at RB next year although no Gross 7th grader is on track to take math at RB next year.
Two years ago when Plepel began taking math a grade above his grade level he had two other Hauser classmates taking math a grade up with him. But both of those boys since moved out of the district.
So far Plepel has aced all his tests and quizzes in the RBHS class. This hasn’t surprised his father.
“He’s so smart that we struggle to find a way for him to be challenged,” John Plepel said. “Quite frankly he, even with the double promotion, still isn’t challenged when it comes to math.”
Marty Sloan, the RBHS teacher who teaches the Honors Geometry class that the 8th graders are taking, said that both of them are doing well and fitting in with the rest of the class.
“The 8th graders seem to be warming up to the class and participating,” Sloan said in an email. “The biggest challenge is probably dealing with the commute every day and not the class itself.”
No fees are charged by RBHS to the students or their districts for allowing the eighth graders to take a class at RBHS. The eighth graders will receive both high school and middle school credit for the class.
Both Brownlow and Gross principal Ryan Evans said that RBHS has been very cooperative in addressing the needs of the eighth graders.
“It’s nice that we work cooperatively and collaboratively to meet student needs,” Brownlow said.