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West Ottawa fourth-grader taking college math
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West Ottawa fourth-grader taking college math

From: West Ottawa Public Schools

Derek Maas admitted to feeling “weird” on the first day of the Lakewood Elementary fourth-grader’s math class at Hope College.

But the youngest student in the Program for Academically Talented at Hope (PATH) is doing just fine now, thank you. His current grade of A and 98.66 percent average attests to that.

“Only the first day was weird but I’m used to it now,” said Derek, 9, the youngest of Ed and Paula Maas’ four children. “I like the teacher and you get to make up extra credit all the time. It really helps you learn a lot.”

Not that Derek has ever had a problem learning. He has consistently tested above his grade level since he was a kindergarten student, took sixth-grade math at Lakewood last year and has been in Lakewood’s Students Accelerating in Learning (SAIL) program.

SAIL, the district’s program for advanced students in grades 2-5 at Lakewood Elementary, provides accelerated language arts instruction but Derek is most advanced in math. So after Derek completed sixth-grade math last year, his father talked with Lakewood Principal Jacquelyn DelRaso about what was the next step.

She suggested PATH, which was developed to serve academically talented seventh, eighth and ninth graders from greater Ottawa County. More than 25 school districts in Allegan, Kent, Ottawa and Muskegon counties participate.

Only one other student his age, a biology student last year, has been accepted into PATH, said its Director Lisa Frissora. She said one of the criteria for acceptance is what the student’s school district would do with him after he completed PATH, and West Ottawa’s ability to offer him calculus as a sixth-grader – the district is known for its many advancement options -- was a big selling point.

“He is an amazing student,” Frissora said. “It’s not often you hear of a sixth-grader taking calculus.”

Derek and other PATH students – which includes brother Kyle, 12, a seventh-grader -- meet from 1-3:30 p.m. one day a week and are given assignments to complete on the remaining days. He’s currently completing Algebra I and will take Algebra II next year.

“Math is just easier for me to do than all the other subjects,” Derek explained.

“He’s always been pretty bright. He’s got a really good memory,” Ed Maas said. “He’s a hard-working kid who really pushes himself hard.”

Competitive is also one way to describe him. In addition to wanting to excel at academics, Derek is also a good athlete, competing on the West Ottawa Swim Club. He’s got the third best time in the state in the 50 and 100 meter breastroke in 9-10-year-old division, and also swims medley, a combination of strokes.

He also likes soccer, basketball and – don’t tell his mom this – tackle football. Paula Maas, who like her husband is a radiologist, doesn’t like her children in the sport and allows them to play it in sixth-grade only.

“One day I played tackle football,” Derek confessed. “It was really fun.”

Derek is by no means the only academically talented member of the family. Sister  Jenna, 11, like her two brothers, has also gone through SAIL. And brother Kevin, 7, is taking advanced classes in kindergarten.

The SAIL program, offered at Lakewood Elementary, provides advanced curriculum for grades 2-5, with a separate 60-minute daily English language arts for second- and third-graders and an extensive 75-minute daily English language arts for fourth- and fifth-graders. SAIL instructor Denise Smyk also provides assistance to kindergarten and first-grade teachers.

Providing educational opportunities for all students regardless of their level and ability is one thing Ed Maas likes about West Ottawa Schools.

“SAIL has really helped all of them,” Ed Maas said. “West Ottawa has a lot of opportunities for people at all levels. We’ve had great experiences.”

As for the future, Ed and Paula Maas would like Derek to become a doctor. He, however, has his mind on something more lucrative.

“I like computers,” he noted. “I want to do what Bill Gates does.”

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