Post-pandemic Education: ‘Excel-erate’ Program Focuses on Challenging Advanced Students

Growth in math and ELA are promoted by providing additional coursework and analysis

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich., Nov. 15, 2023 /PRNewswire/ — Educators around the country have been concerned about the effects of the pandemic on their students. And while much of their focus has centered on learning loss, sagging test scores, and the ability to keep up with current instruction, curriculum experts at National Heritage Academies (NHA) also focus on another group of students: advanced learners.

It’s why NHA’s curriculum team created Excel-erate, a program developed to challenge students to explore advanced pathways in English Language Arts (ELA) and math.

Excel-erate offers the opportunity for elementary students at NHA partner-schools to work on accelerated content if they are ready to advance beyond grade level. Middle school students who fit that same qualification can begin working on advanced courses for high school credit. Admission into the program is based on test scores and teacher recommendations.

National Heritage Academies operates 101 schools in nine states. Use our school finder to locate one near you: NHA School Finder.

“We are lucky that in the math program we have a large number of students who are ready for Excel-erate,” NHA Curriculum Manager Kristy Hagan said. “They didn’t have any gaps in their learning from 2020, and they have been ready and raring to move on.”

Hagan noted the math program has been active for two years and has seen growth from students who never slowed down during the pandemic.

“A lot goes into making sure the student is ready and that they don’t have hidden gaps in their learning,” she said. “We look at a lot of data. We also talk with the students and parents to make sure they’re ready for this opportunity. We continue to get a lot more interest.”

The ELA Excel-erate program was just added for the 2022-23 school year. The program focuses on sixth- through eighth-grade students who show the ability and desire to dive deeper, developing stronger critical thinking skills related to the assigned reading material.

NHA Manager of ELA Curriculum Sarah Montpas:
“Anything we can give students to really develop those critical thinking skills is so important.”

“It’s about reading ideas, thinking about ideas, being able to verbalize agreements and disagreements with those ideas, and formulating their own ideas,” NHA Curriculum Manager Sarah Montpas said. “Anything we can give students to really develop those critical thinking skills is so important.”

Montpas said she encourages teachers to challenge their ELA students with additional resources they can explore while other students are still tackling required reading.

“The teachers I have heard from, their kids are loving it,” she said.

Flexibility with pace and lesson plans, plus multiple entry points into the program, is important to ensure students don’t fall out of love with the subject matter.

“Sometimes you see a student fall out of love with learning, and we don’t ever want that to happen,” Hagan said. “For that reason, the program is very flexible to meet students where they are. We want students to know that even if they’re not in the program right now, they might be in a year or two. We want them to have that opportunity when they’re ready. We also want to be able to pull back if a student is not doing well.” 

In those cases, students are aligned with groups of students that have similar learning paces and patterns, so they stay within the system but in a different group.

Montpas and Hagan both said there is a strong emphasis on identifying students who need intervention. Teachers are very involved in monitoring progress and teach students that it’s o.k. to struggle a little bit.

“With so many of these students, it has come so easy to them for so long that when they’re put in a position where they do have to struggle, sometimes there’s an instant shutdown instead of understanding that it’s okay to struggle with this and that’s how you grow,” Hagan said.

There are some red flags to watch for when students start struggling with advanced work. Missing assignments is often the biggest one, followed by lack of participation. Students will start to withdraw from conversations in class, and that’s often a clear sign for some intervention.

“I think it’s critical to be really flexible in the program, and it’s critical to reassess every year,” Hagan said.

Want to learn more about how NHA supports teachers and students to achieve at National Heritage Academies partner-schools? Visit

About National Heritage Academies:
National Heritage Academies (NHA) is a network of 101 tuition-free, public charter schools across nine states, serving more than 68,000 students in kindergarten through 12th grade. For more information, visit To find the nearest charter school near you, use the NHA school finder.

SOURCE National Heritage Academies

National Heritage Academies (PRNewsfoto/National Heritage Academies)

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