Accelerated Academics: RUSD’s New Gifted and Advanced Program and Other Advanced Learner Programs

Ian Doing Work
Ian Doing Work

 There has been a lot of talk recently about addressing learning loss in schools, and, coming out of the pandemic, this has been a primary focus of educators. However, in Racine Unified School District, this does not mean that students in need of greater academic challenge have been forgotten. 

In RUSD, staff work to meet the needs of each student individually. Recently, this meant revamping the Gifted and Advanced Program. Not only are there new staff driving the program, these individuals have also developed a universal screening program for all students to ensure access to the program is equitable and not only available to students whose guardians may be more “in the know.” 

Identifying Gifted and Advanced Students

Students may be identified as gifted and advanced in one or more categories: general intellectual, specific academic area, leadership, creativity and fine arts. While some schools and school districts solely rely on teacher or parent referrals for testing and placement in these areas, RUSD’s program is more inclusive. In addition to referrals, the District also does universal screenings to identify students as gifted and advanced in any one of those categories. These screenings take place at the beginning of the year for fifth graders and mid-year for second graders. 

Heidi and Eduardo Perez and their two children, Isabella, age 8, and Ian, age 7, moved to Wisconsin in the spring of 2022 from Florida. Prior to moving to Wisconsin, their children were identified as gifted and talented, but it was not done through the school district. 

“After months of searching for an experienced provider in Florida, we waited several more months for an appointment and paid out-of-pocket for a complete neuropsychological evaluation,” Perez said, noting the entire process took about two months. “In contrast, our oldest was re-evaluated by the RUSD Gifted and Advanced team this past fall. I was contacted with a proposed schedule for the test day, my daughter was tested during the school day, and results were communicated within a week.”

Perez said the Gifted and Advanced Program offered by RUSD was the reason their family ultimately chose to live in Racine County. 

“We weren't quite sure where we would be living, and I spent time speaking with school districts in both Wisconsin and Illinois,” she said. “The passion and knowledge surrounding Gifted and Advanced kids and twice-exceptional students that came from RUSD was a clear strength compared to other districts in our consideration set. The conversations that followed were unique in that I no longer felt alone in advocating for my children.”

Gifted and Advanced Offerings (Elementary and Middle) 

Once students are identified as gifted and advanced, they each receive a differentiation plan that is as unique as they are. Some students may receive early access to kindergarten, single-subject acceleration or even grade acceleration, while other students receive additional enrichments. 

“[Our oldest] has been well supported with the flexibility to read above grade level and participate in District-wide Gifted and Advanced events,” Perez said. “[Both children] participated in the District's recent MLK Jr. art and essay contest, each winning a spot to display their work at the beautiful Mahogany Gallery in Racine. Our oldest also joined a dynamic third grade book club and completed a half-day photography workshop.”

RUSD offers gifted and advanced students access to different programs like Empower, which is a leadership program, extended lessons like those offered through the National Geographic Explorer Classroom Program with virtual scientist visits and the ability to work on passion projects. In addition, students participate in other beneficial experiences like escape rooms to boost problem-solving skills, summer camps tailored to their interests and opportunities like science fairs and leadership conferences that they learn about from a newsletter they receive regularly. They also have access to programs across the state and region through the Wisconsin Association for Talented & Gifted and CESA 1 Partners for the Advancement of Gifted Education.

“It's been super refreshing to work with the RUSD Gifted and Advanced  team and see how our kids are thriving with enrichment and support that's built into their school day and gives them a sense of belonging without suppressing their unique strengths,” said Perez. “I am hearing bigger dreams and more confident voices from my children.”

She encourages other parents to contact the district’s gifted and advanced team to learn more. 

“The program can breathe new life into a Gifted and Advanced kid who is bored or struggling with school,” she said. “There's a genuine interest in identifying and supporting Gifted and Advanced students - in all their many forms - that's truly unique to RUSD.”

Additional Opportunities for High School Students

At the high school level, there are even greater challenges and opportunities available to students who demonstrate advanced academic abilities. There are opportunities for students to earn college credits while attending high school through UW-Parkside, Gateway Technical College, the International Baccalaureate Programme and Advanced Placement (AP). The UW-Parkside Access to College Credit (PACC) program is open to students at Case, Horlick, Park and Walden, all R.E.A.L. school students take college level engineering courses through Gateway Technical College at SC Johnson iMET Center, Case students can take part in the International Baccalaureate Programme and AP courses are open to all RUSD high school students. 

In person AP courses are offered at Horlick, Park and Walden III. Students from Case and R.E.A.L. may take AP courses at any of those schools, however, all students also have the ability to take virtual AP courses. In total the District is offering more than 50 advanced placement classes for the 2023-24 school year. Courses include 3D Studio Art, Computer Science, English Language and Composition, Research, Seminar, Calculus, Statistics, Environmental Science, Biology, Chemistry, Physics, World History, Microeconomics, Psychology, Spanish Language and Culture and many more. 

All AP courses are designed to give students more academically challenging courses that move at a faster pace and require additional studying and work outside of class, but all that work can pay off. Not only does the pace of the work help students develop effective study habits to help them transition to a higher education setting, students can stand out to college admissions departments by demonstrating an ability to handle college-level coursework and save time and money on college by testing out of lower-level college courses through AP exams. An added bonus is that RUSD covers two-thirds of the cost of AP exams for all students and 100 percent of the cost for students who qualify for free and reduced lunch.

To learn more about the RUSD’s gifted and advanced options, email

Isabella Gifted student