Bianca Penuelas and her friends used to joke about being in "the stupid class" at Correia Middle School. The gifted kids took one set of tougher classes for English and history; she and her friends took another, easier set of classes. So Bianca didn't bother to work hard at school.
"I didn't think I had to try because I was below average anyway," the eighth grader said.
"How do you detrack and do it effectively?" said Tom Loveless, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution who is skeptical of the effort. "We don't know.
"It's a tall order to work with kids who can barely write and gifted kids," said Katie Anderson, a parent who sits on a district committee on gifted students. "I'm not crazy about the idea in general. I think it asks too much of teachers. But what they've done at Correia is really good."
"We wanted to debunk the whole thing and try something new," said Principal Patricia Ladd. Her hope was that doing so could raise the bar for all kids at Correia. "So we detracked."
Most students at the Point Loma middle school now take the same English and history classes. All kids are exposed to the strategies normally used solely with gifted students, such as probing ethical issues in debates between Abraham Lincoln and his opponent.
Correia hopes it has cracked the code.
It has so many gifted students that it was able split them up among all of its classes and dub them all as gifted classes, which require a minimum share of gifted students. Most of its teachers are now trained to work with top students, pushing them with deeper questions. They still use special strategies for gifted children, but now use them with everyone.
To teach all kids at once, teachers let students show their knowledge through more flexible and open-ended assignments that allow children to make them as tough as they want, instead of asking all kids to do the same fixed task.
Kids are inspired to aim higher and work harder by their peers. "I've never had a class like this," said Lisa Young, who was used to teaching struggling students in a separate class. "The kids see someone else having success and they think, 'I want that.'"
Bianca Penuelas is one of them. Slackers won't make it in her classes this year, she says, so she's trying harder, thinking bigger, proud to be working and chatting with the "smart kids" she once saw from afar.
"I feel smarter," she said, her braces glinting in a smile. "I felt like I made it up to their level."
More The End of 'The Stupid Class