Seattle Public Schools

Advanced Learning at Thurgood Marshall

Summary: Discovering, training, and investigating; that’s what students at Thurgood Marshall Elementary experience every week in enrichment clusters.

Enrichment clusters bring advanced learning opportunities to every student  

Discovering, training, and investigating; that’s what students at Thurgood Marshall Elementary experience every week in their enrichment clusters. For an hour on Wednesdays, most students in grades three through five gather in cluster groups to expand their learning beyond typical classroom assignments.  

Enrichment clusters are just one of the ways that Seattle Public Schools is changing how we deliver Advanced Learning services. The new model supports the brilliance of every student — particularly Black, Brown, and Indigenous students who have been traditionally furthest from educational justice — and considers the needs of the whole child at various levels of academic learning. 

“Enrichment clusters are about getting out there and exploring,” said fifth grade teacher Sam Egelhoff. “Students are getting to do things that they might not have time for anywhere else. It’s their turn to follow their own lead.”  

Enrichment clusters — which were introduced to Thurgood Marshall by the SPS Advanced Learning Department in 2021 — are designed to help students develop and apply higher order thinking skills, including creative problem solving, negotiation and communication. The intent is to support every child‘s development according to their talents, strengths and needs. 

In Egelhoff’s class, students in cluster groups are learning photoshop, writing and producing music, researching wildlife, practicing their coding skills or discovering nature through science.  

Clusters are made up of students who share an interest, topic or subject. Students can choose to explore any topic that interests them. Each cluster group works together for six to eight weeks within their classroom or across grade levels, and are organized by teachers, staff and families.   

“The whole goal is to hopefully help kids know what they’re interested and passionate about,” Egelhoff said. 

Enrichment clusters were implemented, in part, to provide equitable learning opportunities to every student. They’re helping to eliminate racial disproportionality in advanced learning by giving every student access to learning services that help them thrive.  

“As a school, everyone has access to the same things,” Egelhoff said. “The [Thurgood Marshall] staff is really passionate about social justice. This is one way that we make that happen — it’s benefitting everybody.”  

Clusters also reveal student potential and remove barriers to accessing advanced learning offerings, one of the key goals of our new service delivery model. . Over time, students will receive advanced learning services at their neighborhood school. The new model is designed to serve the whole child, and new types of instruction, such as enrichment clusters, will be flexible enough to provide advanced lessons where appropriate and grade level help in other areas, if needed.   

“There’s so much the kids have in common, it’s great that they’re able to learn together,” Egelhoff said.  

During the pandemic, clusters have stayed primarily in their assigned classrooms, but Egelhoff is hopeful that students will soon be able to collaborate with peers in other classes so they can explore shared interest areas together.   

For now, she’s happy to see her students working with each other to develop their strengths and talents. She knows the knowledge they’re gaining in the clusters will eventually lead them to exciting futures.  

“It would be great if one day these students had careers based on a topic they explored in elementary school enrichment clusters,” Egelhoff said. “Maybe they wouldn’t have had the chance to learn about that topic in another setting but because of enrichment clusters, it became their life’s passion.” 

The Advanced Learning Department is currently working to bring enrichment clusters to more schools. SPS is deeply committed to furthering our Advanced Learning program across the district for grades K-8. By changing the way we provide these services, every student will have access to the learning experiences and support they need to excel.  

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