Middle School Highly Able Learner (HAL) Program Overview

What is the purpose of the Middle School Highly Able Learner Program?

The purpose of the Middle School Highly Able Learner Program is to provide academic rigor and challenge for highly able learners with high academic abilities in language arts, math, science, and social studies.  The Middle School Highly Able Learner Program strives to meet these students’ specific learning styles and advanced academic needs in the subject areas of their strengths.

What services are offered to highly-able learners?

Highly able learner cluster groups exist in 6th, 7th, & 8th grade language arts, math, science, and social studies classes at all FCPS middle schools.

What is cluster grouping?

Cluster grouping is a research-based delivery model to address the academic needs of gifted & talented learners.  Research tells us that grouping highly able students together helps them learn better.  It also allows teachers to plan and provide challenging learning opportunities and set a more rapid pace for this group of students.  Students may be identified as highly able in one, several, or all four of the core content areas.  Groups of identified students (varying in number from 3 to more than 10) are placed together in honors language arts and math classes.   Students identified as highly able in science and/or social studies will be placed together in a science or social studies class.  Teachers of cluster groups receive specialized, ongoing professional development in instructional strategies which are proven to be most effective in meeting the needs of highly able learners.  In addition, principals, assistant principals, and curriculum leaders receive professional development in support of the Highly Able Learner Program.

What are the criteria for selection?

Any student placed in a highly able cluster group must:

  • Demonstrate high ability through performance on a variety of specific data measures, including, but not limited to: state and local assessments, Global Scholar, classroom assessments, & daily performance;
  • Possess the ability to learn material at advanced rates and levels of understanding, observed through the following learner behaviors:
    • Makes important connections between concepts and other areas of study
    • Asks high level questions
    • Effectively communicates ideas for a variety of audiences and purposes
    • Seeks multiple solutions to problems
    • Sees tasks/content in unique ways
    • Thinks critically and abstractly
    • Shows persistence when exploring solutions to unstructured problems; or
  • May have been previously identified through the FCPS Elementary Magnet Program

What is the placement process?

  • The Middle School Articulation Committee considers each student to determine if placement in one or more highly able learner clusters is appropriate.
  • If your child is identified for placement in the cluster, you will be notified by a letter sent from the middle school by April 1.
  • If your child is not selected, you may appeal the decision by writing a letter to the middle school principal.

What curriculum can I expect my child to follow in the highly able learner cluster groups?

Your child will follow the essential curriculum of FCPS with an emphasis on depth and complexity based on students’ abilities and interests.  Instruction for highly able students will be differentiated in content, process, and products in order to better meet the needs of the learners and prepare them for further study.

What kinds of instructional activities might my child pursue?

Your child will be exposed to a variety of instructional activities that promote deep understanding of content.  Hands-on exploratory activities foster learning through personal discovery.  Problem solving activities in various subject areas increase students’ abilities to think critically, logically and creatively.  Completion of projects will require research and application of knowledge.

How might my child’s homework differ from students not enrolled in the highly able learner cluster?

You should expect your child’s homework to be different from that of students not enrolled in highly able learner cluster.  Advanced analytical thinking, creative problem solving, research skills and time management are often needed for highly able learners to complete homework.

Does our middle school still have an Advanced Academics Specialist?

Absolutely!  In FCPS, our Advanced Academics Specialists (formerly known as “enrichment specialists”) serve as advocates to ensure that highly able students receive the challenge they need and that teachers have access to the latest strategies and resources to provide that challenge.  In addition to providing support for the Highly Able Learner cluster classes, the advanced academics specialists will continue to oversee the School-wide Enrichment Model, which provides opportunities for all students.

Who do I contact if I have questions?

Contact your middle school’s Advanced Academics Specialist for more information:
Ballenger Creek: Mrs. Christine Brown
Brunswick: Mrs. Amy Mossburg
Crestwood: Mrs. Keri Grossnickle
Governor Thomas Johnson: Mrs. Kerri Cole
Middletown: Mrs. Dianne Thompson
Monocacy: Ms. Christine Borman-Bozick
New Market: Ms. Renee Heeley
Oakdale: Ms. Karen Shomaker
Thurmont: Ms. Candace Desonier
Urbana: Mrs. Emma Kaveney
Walkersville: Mr. Mark Elias
West Frederick: Mrs. Heather Kehr
Windsor Knolls: Mrs. Lori Saylor