Advanced Education Program Leaves Students Underprepared For High School

Students previously placed in gifted programs broke down how their experiences have affected them long-term socially, emotionally and academically.


Used with permission by Shayla Sutliff

Former Venture and Magnet student Shayla Sutliff receives an award and scholarship money for writing an essay that won at the local and state level within the Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR).

by Sam Goerke, Reporter

“The Magnet program did not prepare me for high school in the ways it should have,” CKHS junior and former Magnet and Venture program student Aspen Willis said. 

Starting at only seven years old, students in Kitsap County can test to be placed in advanced classes through programs such as the Magnet program at Central Kitsap Middle School or the Venture program at Emerald Heights Elementary. 

These programs are focused on creating a more individualized classroom environment for students who work at a faster pace than their peers. 

While this might seem like a wonderful opportunity for academic success, sometimes students are harmed more than they are helped. 

Shayla Sutliff was placed in the Venture program at Emerald Heights Elementary in the third grade. 

She is involved in 12 different clubs at Central Kitsap High School, including being the President of French Club and vice president of Future Business Leaders of America. She also coaches youth soccer in her community and takes private violin lessons to prepare for a position on the Kids’ Philharmonic Symphony in the future. 

In the midst of all these activities, Sutliff juggles six AP classes at CKHS with almost perfect grades. 

“The idea of having worked for 10 or 11 years to have a 4.0 and to keep up that grade point average, and then the idea of possibly getting an A minus,” Sutliff said. “I wouldn’t say it’s that devastating freak-out thing to me, but it definitely makes me feel icky. I don’t like thinking about it and I don’t like the idea of it, which is why I always try not to let it happen.”

Ferrah Capas is a part of ten CKHS extracurricular activities and has been closely involved with her school since she was little. 

“I put a lot of extra work outside of school,” Capas said. “In the summer my parents would make me do workbook things, and I would always do that.” 

When students are told that they are academically intelligent, it sets the precedent that their grades should be superior to their peers. However, when a classroom is full of these students, they experience the pressure to be the best of the best. 

“I experienced a lot of academic pressure, but it was mainly self driven,” Sutliff said. “I wasn’t necessarily motivated by my parents or my teachers.”

Parents were supporting their children with their education, but many kids felt that they had to get good grades to be valuable. 

“I think any pressure that I had was all personal internal pressure,” Capas said. “My parents obviously want me to get A’s and there was some pressure around that, but most was just coming from me.”

Now that those kids are in high school, the pressure to remain on top carried over while entering the real world.  

“I’m less focused on ‘this is what I want to do when I grow up’ than ‘I want to be the best at what I do when I grow up,’” Sutliff said. “When I’m looking at colleges, I have a really really hard time finding those middle ground colleges because I’m so focused on the ones that have the lowest acceptance rates, because that feeds my self worth and makes me feel like it’s worth it.”

The Venture and Magnet programs gave students who were working faster than everyone else an opportunity to jumpstart their education, but these kids often weren’t given a choice in the matter. 

“I remember in fourth and fifth grade we had jumped up the math level, and I was not ready for that,” CKHS student Aspen Willis said. “So that was really hard and so I had this drive to do good on it. I needed to, and I would freak out and get super anxious when I did not do well.”

Students like Capas and Sutliff are very involved in their school’s community, and in some ways they feel overly involved. 

“Definitely a lot of my self worth was just in academics,” Capas said. “And like I said, I’m in AP classes. I’m in 10 clubs. So I guess that score is kind of reflected now. I count on that a lot, I feel like I barely have a life outside of academics so my self worth is in it.”

“Let’s talk about this, my entire identity and self worth is tied to my grades.”

— Aspen Willis

The effects of academic pressure in childhood education has stuck with people like Willis. 

“But because of the way that it was in elementary school, I’m permanently super insane about grades and like my self worth was like, ‘failed the test. It’s over, my life is done,’” Willis said. 

The competitive aspect of Magnet pushed kids to perform above and beyond, even when it wasn’t necessary. 

“It’s a very common theme among kids who are in advanced classes– that perfectionism, you’re asked to turn into a one page assignment and you make it 10 type of thing,” Willis said. 

Once students were put into the Magnet or Venture programs, they usually stayed in the same classes with the same people until 8th grade. 

“It wasn’t the easiest thing for me to make friends outside of the Magnet program, but it definitely was not impossible,” Sutliff said. 

Some people in Magnet didn’t want to have friends out of those classes. Other students were never given the opportunity to expand their social circles. 

“I don’t know if I ever got the chance because I was never in classes with them other than those like sixth grade classes you were forced to take,” Capas said. “I think I could have, but I never thought to make friends outside Magnet.” 

Even within Magnet, students formed cliques and excluded each other. 

“There was definitely a superiority thing,” Willis said. “Not with who was outside of Magnet and who was in Magnet, but with other students in Magnet because we were pinned against each other and it was extremely competitive like with everyone else in our class, so an internal superiority thing.”

The concept of cliques is not isolated to the Magnet program, however, whether or not it is heightened by the segregation from other students is hard to tell. 

Despite the lasting effects socially and academically of being put in a gifted program at a young age, many students don’t regret doing it. 

“I think I would have had a lot of behavioral issues because I was bored,” Willis said. “In Magnet, the pacing was just better for me. I enjoyed it more. As much as the emotional turmoil sucked, it was the best thing for me to do.”

Students like Sutliff count themselves lucky that they were put in programs that helped them learn.

“I’m incredibly lucky and incredibly privileged to be one of those people that the US education system works for, and that the way teachers taught throughout my life has always been beneficial to me and has always helped me learn,” Sutliff said. “I definitely am the minority because I know that doesn’t happen for a lot of people. But I got lucky to be learning and absorbing information, the way it was taught in schools came really easily to me as a kid.” 

Other students like Capas feel that they would’ve been just as well off if they’d never been put in gifted programs. 

“I learned better than others, but I definitely wouldn’t say Magnet or Venture helped me do those things,” Capas said. “I think it’s just natural to me.”

Gifted programs have been spreading to more and more schools in the last few years, but are schools stopping to think about the effects it’s leaving on kids? 

“I think just because it’s good for me doesn’t mean we should have Magnet programs in every school,” Sutliff said.

Students hitting high school had to realize how difficult it is to keep up when the curve flattens and they go back into mainstream classes where everyone else is just as “gifted” as they are. 

“The Magnet program did not prepare me for high school in the ways it should have,” Capas said.

High school is difficult for anyone, and the effects of gifted programs just made it harder for many students. 

“A lot of us were not used to having to study or having to do all of that,” Willis said. “So when that changed, we never learned because school came easy. We never learned how to study, and so there was just massive burnout. And that just makes everything worse.”