Sue Caballero has been a teacher for 42 years, but you won’t see her dreading the start of school.

She keeps things interesting by challenging herself, and in the coming school year, she’s taking on another exciting challenge — a brand-new accelerated class for kindergartners at Magnolia Woods Elementary School.

Caballero and Carrie Haulard, who will teach an accelerated first-grade class, were hand-picked by Principal Donna Wallette for their teaching experience and expertise, she said. The accelerated classes will have a strong science, technology, engineering and math component, she said.

The program begins in early August, and the school is looking for qualified students to start the application process, Wallette said.

“We have space for 20 to 25 students in each class,” she said. “We will give priority to students in our family of schools — Magnolia Woods, Highland and Wildwood elementary schools,” she said.

“We applied for a federal grant to start a magnet program, but we didn’t get it,” Wallette said. “We already had available space for that. We felt very strongly about (science, technology, engineering and math) programs, and the word got to the district, so we got the approval to start this program,” she said.

In addition to the two accelerated classes, every child in every grade at Magnolia Woods will spend time in STEM specialist Armetta Wright’s lab in the coming year. Wright will coordinate with all teachers, not just the accelerated program, in an effort to teach every student that learning is fun, she said.

“The idea is to present them with a problem and get them to work out a solution themselves,” Wright said.

The school already incorporates strong science, math and technology lessons, she said.

“We just need to pull in that engineering element,” Wright added. And that, she said, will mean building things.

“Say we have a bird that needs a water container that holds as much water as possible,” Wright said. “Students will work in teams, all using the same materials, and work to design, create blueprints and test model containers for which holds the water best, volume tests for which holds the most water.”

The materials they’ll be given won’t be obvious choices for the task at hand, she said. “They’ll have to learn to think outside of the box.”

This forces students to implement a range of skills and, at the same time, teaches them cooperation and communication.

Caballero said it comes naturally to children anyway. “You’ve seen a kid play with a ball. They don’t just bounce it; they think, ‘What else can I do with this ball?’ ” she said. By bringing those elements back into the classroom, she hopes learning becomes play and schoolwork becomes school fun.

“It’s nice to be a part of a program (that says) not only is it OK to be inquisitive, it’s preferred,” she said.

The earlier students begin thinking this way, she said, the more it will pay off later. “Part of what I’m teaching them as a kindergarten teacher is how to learn, how to be in class,” she said.

Wallette said that if the two accelerated classes are successful, the school would like to add an accelerated class per grade each year, until there is a class at every grade level.

“We’re trying to prepare our kids to be competitive locally, nationally and globally,” Wallette said. And the world needs more graduates with STEM skills, she said.

“We want to inspire them and give them a passion for that subject,” she added, whatever the subject.

Criteria for accelerated classes

KINDERGARTEN:

  • 5 years old by Sept. 30
  • MUST HAVE ATTENDED PRE-K PROGRAM AND SCORED PROFICIENT ON PROGRESS REPORT OR SCORE A 7 OR HIGHER ON THE DEVELOPING SKILLS CHECKLIST

FIRST GRADE:

  • 6 years old by Sept. 30
  • Must have attended kindergarten and scored proficient on progress report
  • Must have a “benchmark” score on Dynamic Indicators of Basic Early Literacy Skills test.

If a student has not taken the DIBELS or DSC test, the test can be administered at Magnolia Woods, Wallette said.

To apply, bring the following original documents:

  • Kindergarten or pre-K report card, depending on which grade each child will be entering, if attended.
  • Completed EBR lunch application
  • Child’s birth certificate
  • Child’s Social Security card
  • Up-to-date shot records
  • Parent or guardian’s picture identification
  • Two utility bills within the past 30 days in parent or guardian’s name
  • If not in Magnolia Woods’ attendance zone, a completed parent/family of schools agreement.

For more information, contact Magnolia Woods at (225) 769-6845, or visit the school’s website at magnoliawoods.ebrschools.org