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Parents concerned with pilot program at Abington Heights

Times-Tribune - 11/7/2019

Nov. 7--CLARKS SUMMIT -- Several parents attended the Abington Heights School District work session Wednes­day to voice concerns regarding a pilot program, EL Education, in the language arts curriculum.

The pilot program was implemented in first, third and fifth grades at the start of the year. Students are expected to complete the program shortly after Thanksgiving and then return to their regular curriculum, Abington Heights Assistant Superintendent Marc

Wyandt said.

El Education emphasizes topics like human rights, immigration, equal pay and other social issues. Wyandt believes the program offers several benefits to students.

"It's challenging and it encourages them to think and engage with high-level texts," he said. "It's forcing students to make connections with different types of texts and come to conclusions."

Julie Storey, who has three children in the district, didn't feel the program's political overtones were age-appropriate. And Maryellen Darling, who has a son in fifth grade, was concerned with the program's lack of direct and explicit teaching.

"I'm particularly concerned about our learning support students," Darling said. "The tasks students are asked to complete coupled with complex texts and unfamiliar terms and vocabulary make it nearly impossible for any student with a learning disability to progress academically."

Other parents took issue with the EL Education program's emphasis on group work. Wyandt, however, believes students benefit from the communication.

"There is a great deal gained when students hear their peers' perspectives," Wyandt said. "It keeps all students engaged."

The decision was made to test the pilot program because the current curriculum wasn't meeting the needs of students, Abington Heights Superintendent Michael Mahon said.

EL Education is one of two pilot programs in the district.

A committee of about 20 members, consisting of teachers and administrators, will bring a recommendation to the board in the coming months about whether to adopt EL Education and/or the other program, called Wit & Wisdom. Mahon said it's possible neither program will be implemented permanently.

He appreciated all the feedback and will consider the comments when mulling future decision on the curriculum.

"This is exactly why we're doing the pilot," he said. "We want the community to be engaged and we're grateful that people come out and offer their voices. The idea of the pilot is to come to a decision for what is best for our kids."

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