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Malden School Committee needs to keep Accelerated Learners Program

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  My wife and I decided to raise our children in Malden not only because of its diversity, but because of its commitment to inclusion. The Malden Public School mission pledges “a welcoming and inclusive environment for all students to…achieve their academic potential and engage as compassionate global citizens.”

  So why is the school committee continuing to pause and possibly remove a unique program supporting diverse kids who are able and willing to learn beyond their current grade level? I’m talking about the Academically Enriched and Advanced Program (AEAP), which has been in existence for many years. The program has experienced challenges recently with changing administration, a lack of clear oversight, and removal of bussing, but these concerns can (and should) be addressed as part of policy and shouldn’t overshadow the benefits of the program.

  Why is this program important? Let’s say you’re in third grade but performing at a fifth grade level. Sure, you may get good grades and sail along, but after a few years of being taught concepts you already know, frustration sets in. Your love of learning fades as you never push the bounds of what you know into the learning zone. The lack of challenge can lead to behavioral issues, anxiety, or the feeling that school is not for you. There are long-term effects of not being challenged as well. How prepared will you be to overcome obstacles later in life if you never had to manage your time, leverage study techniques, solve problems, and be resourceful?

  The Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) has recently acknowledged that their historic hands-off approach to these programs may need to change. A report commissioned by DESE concludes that Black, Hispanic, and low-income students are hurt the most when advanced programs aren’t offered. Malden’s AEAP program is exceptional in that it benefits diverse and low-income students. Privileged families will find ways to help their kids when public schools don’t. As for the rest, the six hours they attend public school is their only hope to exercise their potential. Even after-school programs are not accessible for the many children who must care for their siblings while their parents work.

  The AEAP program here in Malden is putting us on the map as innovators among other cities and towns in Massachusetts where programs like these are few and far between. Charter schools and private schools are winning when it comes to challenging our kids; public schools must find a solution.

  Whether our public school children need help achieving grade level, learning with disabilities, learning fluent English, or finding challenge beyond what their current grade instruction can provide, Malden Public Schools must offer appropriately differentiated learning opportunities for all students. Let’s make sure there’s accountability in the school district to oversee the program and unpause it immediately so we can enroll those who have missed out over the past two years. Once the program is up and running again, let’s do the work to ensure the program employs best practices from other states and is accessible across the city. If we continue to do nothing, what remains of this critical program will be lost.

  We owe our high-achieving current and future students this chance to receive the support they require. For many Malden children, past and present, the AEAP program is exactly what they need to realize their true potential. Without it, many never will.

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