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Naperville Central High School's award-winning newspaper.

Central Times

Naperville Central High School's award-winning newspaper.

Central Times

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Opinion: Dear District 203, let’s cancel PI+

I remember the day I got into Project Idea Plus like it was yesterday. I got the letter early in the school day, but I was told not to open it until I got home. My mom picked me up from school, and we immediately opened it up. I got in. What followed were the worst 5 years of my life.

Okay. It wasn’t THAT bad. It was a natural choice for my parents to make, and I don’t blame them. I was already at Meadow Glens Elementary School, so it wasn’t the big change that others had to make. I had some say in it, but I was in third grade. It’s not like I had the maturity to make such a large decision by myself. PI+ is well known to be the pinnacle of educational success in District 203. It makes sense; what parent wouldn’t want the best for their kid? But instead of getting the pinnacle of education, I was subjected to five years of an oversold education. With little to no diversity surrounding me, far fewer opportunities for SEL learning,  and while being in a pressure cooker of an environment, it’s a wonder I made it out in the way I did.

PI+ is sold to parents as an opportunity for children to reach their fullest potential in classes that fit their level of academic rigor and provide advanced learning opportunities. I needed this, and it is needed for any district to provide. Being placed in general education doesn’t work for all students, especially those who are far ahead of the curriculum. 

But the way that 203 has chosen to provide this service for the years that PI+ has been in place is deeply flawed, and goes against their recent practices. In 2014, 203 made the drastic decision to cut the Enrichment and Project Leap programs. These programs prioritized “pushing in” instead of “pulling out” students for academic support. I remember this vividly. It was a huge deal, with many parents deeply against it. Instead, 203 would place instructional assistants in classrooms to provide support for students. 

In hindsight, 10 years later, 203 was ahead of the curve and made the right call. In ages when the gap in knowledge is so large and social and emotional growth is so pivotal, making sure that cohesiveness and enough student support is present is incredibly important. 

And yet, PI+ to this day continues this “pull out” practice to the extreme. Instead of being placed with students of all skills and abilities, you are shifted at a young age to a brand new school, with new peers, new teachers and a new environment. All of the reasons for limiting that type of instructional method seem to be tossed to the wayside in the case of PI+, making the argument that children with this level of intellect require removal from general education.

While PI+ did give me the education as promised, the other parts of my experience made the trouble not worth it. Being thrown into the PI+ “bubble” as it’s called by students is exactly how it sounds. You have little to no interaction with other students at different levels of instruction, and a lack of diversity in racial, economic, and of course, intellectual diversity is stark and apparent. Placing students with others who are exactly like them in almost every way does no good for anyone. Unless you’re a member of MENSA, most students are holistically better suited in general education.

This is especially apparent in terms of SEL skills. These were my weak spots to say the least, even when compared to the broader student population of PI+. By having little opportunity to interact with other students with different life stories and experiences, I was put at a stark disadvantage during a time in which SEL growth is so exponential and important. 

The increased rigor and socially stunted population directly led to mental health challenges exploding in my class. My fellow classmates were experiencing these challenges at ages in which nobody should, and I partially blame PI+; added to the general mental health epidemic we already face as a generation.

PI+ surrounds people with big egos with others who are just like them. Talking about your dream Ivy League school in sixth grade was a regular topic of conversation, when half of the students will most likely end up at UIUC. The rigor forces many students to turn to unhealthy coping mechanisms depriving them of childhood experiences. Every grade that drops is like a bomb going off, causing all the students to quickly compare themselves to each other, deciding who is at the top of the hyper-competitive PI+ bubble.

After moving through two years of elementary PI+, middle school got a bit better, yet worse at the same time. We had some classes with general education, which helped in terms of the lack of diversity issue. But then, in seventh and eighth grade, students are placed in a mobile home in the back of Kennedy Junior High School, called the “pod” by students and staff. This segregates the students even further, and nurtures the perception that PI+ students are “better” than the others. Teachers try to fight against this, but it’s unconsciously furthered by the actions of students and social interactions with general education students. Is there anything else you would expect by segregating the “smart” kids?

By the time you exit PI+, what rewards await you in high school? Not much, other than a lack of social skills and possibly mental health issues. Some students who opted to stay in their home schools were bussed to Central for Honors Geometry during their eighth grade year. Others took a math class over the summer and are at the same point I am. PI led directly into the Honors English track, which is where I’m at as a former PI+ student. Social studies and science in PI+ did not seem to be drastically different than in general education. Plenty of students who were placed in general education are now taking even more advanced classes than me in those subjects.

How do you view PI+?

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We don’t need to segregate elementary and junior high students anymore just for better math instruction and separate them from their home schools. It’s the 21st Century. We can figure out a way to provide differing levels of math instruction while not completely depriving students of a normal education. PI+ is an antiquated program that, in my mind, does more harm than good to almost any student who went through it, whether they realize it or not.

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About the Contributor
Jay Deegan
Jay Deegan, Print Managing Editor
Jay Deegan is a Junior at Central and happy to start his third year of journalistic adventures at the Central Times. Jay loves writing features and diving in-depth into issues that plague our community. In his free time Jay runs a freelance videography and photography business and loves to creatively express his interests in sports and filmmaking. If you’d like to join CT or have a tip, reach out!
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  • S

    Seth DeeganMay 4, 2024 at 2:42 pm

    > What followed were the worst 5 years of my life.

    You made core friends in PI+… you played video games with them after school… you worked on engaging projects with them.. you did cross country and swimming with them… you took and succeeded in classes 2 years ahead of your peers… your teachers were some of the best in the district…

    If you were concerned about not being with people in PI+ and how it affected, I would have heard complaining from you throughout middle school – but I didn’t. It wasn’t until high school where these thoughts appeared because you changed your friend groups to people who were not in PI+.

    PI+’s rigor is worth it. It prepares you extremely well for high school compared to peers who were not in PI+. You form way better study habits than those other peers and as a result of being ahead, you are extremely prepared for college as well. Because of PI+, I will be on track to graduate with an undergrad and masters degree in computer engineering in 4 years.

    You say we don’t need “segregate” but you don’t provide a solution to meet the need of providing an education that meets an appropriate level for everyone. Right now, PI+ is generating successful and kind students and I can’t think of a better way to provide advanced education and an amazing community than how the program is structured right now. If anything this article is just adding to the noise from people who have never been in PI+ and have unjustified negative feelings of the program. For most of the students in the program, it has helped them make lifelong friends and fundamentally made them into better people. I am forever grateful for the program.

    Reply
  • K

    Kamea GrumezaApr 29, 2024 at 6:44 pm

    As a student in PI+, I don’t think that your statements are correct. Throughout the day, I have many opportunities to interact with people from outside the program, and some of my best friends are non-PI+. The risks of joining such a program are obvious, and people can’t be annoyed with choosing something… that was their choice. Honestly, I think that your claims are far too exaggerated and would actually be derogatory to the children who could be in PI+, because the majority of these kids have no problem with the program. And also, you could have left at any time, so you were really just putting yourself through this “torture”.

    Reply
  • A

    Ayush KarApr 29, 2024 at 12:24 pm

    As a PI+ person, I see where this comes from. People can be more advanced than others in some things and instead of hating it, we have to accept them. While I am not denying that the points made make some sense, it makes no point to make the ones in the program feel bad. In a way, it’s like targeting a minority for wearing a certain type of clothes out in the open that society typically doesn’t. While it does some odd we are sent out in a trailer to learn, it is so that the gifted children get the oppurtunities they need to develop. If they were on the same learning scale as their peers even if they are a year or two ahead, it would slow them down and be disadvantegous to apply what they know and grow more.

    Reply
  • A

    Abigail SongApr 27, 2024 at 10:16 pm

    I’m sorry, but I simply don’t agree. I am in the PI+ program and it has helped me socially grow and challenge myself academically. I guess the experience is different for everyone.

    Reply
  • R

    Roz IasilloApr 26, 2024 at 8:58 am

    I can’t agree with you more. My son was accepted into the PI+ program in 2003. My wife and I were unsure about accepting the offer because he liked the group of friends he had made at Prairie and loved his Honors Math teacher. We went in and talked. With his teachers and they all said the same thing, “Don’t send him to the PI+ program because he is too social and the program will stunt his social and emotional learning.” We kept him at Prairie. He was able to interact with students at differing ability levels. In a much more diverse social environment.

    Reply