Meeting the needs of high ability students

The Marshalltown Community School District strives to provide quality education for learners across the academic spectrum. Just like children with disabilities and English learners, high ability students have unique needs and can be found in every classroom around the district.

Some people don’t realize that there are specialized services for these gifted learners. The Marshalltown Extended Learning Program (XLP) is designed to serve students in grades K-12 who have demonstrated high achievement or potential in one or more of the following areas of giftedness: General intellectual ability, specific ability aptitude and creative and productive thinking. Approximately 5-8 percent of Marshalltown students are served by XLP.

Marshalltown Schools has two elementary XLP instructors – Deb Christenson serves Franklin, Fisher and Rogers and Nicole Holman serves Anson, Hoglan and Woodbury. Vanessa Engel is the XLP instructor at Lenihan and Marshalltown Learning Academy. Ann Jackson serves Miller and Susan Fritzell serves MHS. These teachers hold special certification in gifted education and receive specialized training to support gifted learners.

XLP instructors work with classroom teachers to adjust classwork in order to challenge gifted learners. Additionally, XLP instructors meet with students to provide challenges beyond regular classwork. Enrichment programs offered by XLP include math competitions, science fairs, National History Day projects, technology fair projects, book club, First Lego League and more. This programming strives to extend students’ learning beyond the regular classroom.

The XLP program builds on individual abilities, needs, passions, and learning styles and strives to ignite students’ desire for rigor and lifelong learning.

XLP teachers work with students to be effective communicators and self-motivated learners. Marshalltown XLP students have become World Food Prize International Interns, National History Day champions, Iowa Science Fair gold medalists, Letters About Literature national champions, and earned high school and Marshalltown Community College diplomas at the same time.

Because many XLP students have learned to use their academic gifts, they have received full-ride scholarships to college. XLP is one of the many important programs within the Marshalltown Community School District that provide a diverse and quality education for our students.


Matt Cretsinger is director of special services for the Marshalltown school district. The Extended Learning Program staff contributed to this column.