Fourth-grader John Olson held up a vial holding a small chunk of calcite, then poured in vinegar during a recent science lesson at Oak Hills Elementary.

Instantly, the white rock began spewing small bubbles. Nearly as fast, John's lab partners spouted observations.

"You can see, like, white powder coming off of it," said Mia Rouse.

"I think that might be the mineral," said Ben Earles.

John, Mia and Ben are among the children who have flocked to Ignite!, a program for highly gifted students that the Lakeville School District is offering for the first time this year.

It's a more intense alternative to the gifted programming offered elsewhere in Lakeville and many other districts, in which kids are periodically pulled out of their regular classrooms for special lessons. The kids in Ignite! spend all day with other gifted students, working on lessons that have been enriched and accelerated to meet their needs.

Though schools take great pains to help kids who are at the back of the pack academically, "gifted children also need some extra support for them to flourish and be excited about learning," said LuAnne Douglas, who teaches third-graders in the program.

Similar classrooms are popping up all over the south metro. In recent years, a school-within-a-school in Prior Lake and a gifted magnet programs in the Burnsville-Eagan-Savage district have joined examples such as Dimensions Academy in Bloomington and the Atheneum program in Inver Grove Heights.

In Eagan, Pinewood Community School started full-time gifted classrooms for students in fourth and fifth grade last year. This year, the school added a class of third-graders.

"I think it's a level of service that has been missing on some level in districts," said Pinewood Principal Cris Town, who said the new classrooms have drawn some kids who had left the school district for other programs.

Lakeville's new program drew some applications from outside the district, said Holly Traub, the district's elementary gifted education coordinator. But qualified Lakeville students had priority, and they filled up the program this year.

Ignite! has one classroom each of students in third and fourth grade. Next year, the district plans to add a fifth-grade classroom.

To evaluate kids who apply, the district tests their innate intellectual ability and their achievement in class. The program is intended for kids who are in the top 2 percent of students in both categories, Traub said.

Experts also say that gifted kids who aren't challenged in school often become disengaged by third or fourth grade. Many teachers and parents who have pushed for new gifted classrooms also cite research that says gifted students make more progress in school if they're grouped with peers learning at a similar pace.

Several kids in Lakeville's program said they were bored last year in mainstream classrooms.

Last year, Nelson Koshiol said he often finished reading lessons before most of his class. "I would just have to wait there another 10 minutes," the fourth-grader said.

Instead of using reading textbooks, Ignite! teachers let students choose books from a classroom library, helping them make selections that will stretch them.

"We really wanted to give kids a chance to have more choices in their education," Traub said.

Kids in the program also choose elective subjects such as model bridge-building or digital video-editing for study on a weekly basis.

"It gives me a chance to decide what I'm interested in and what I'm not," said Camille Buckley, a fourth-grader.

In math, many kids in the program are a full year ahead of their peers in regular classrooms.

But the program isn't just about acceleration, teachers said. It's also about going deeper and spending more time picking apart complex topics.

"These kids are capable of going extremely fast, but we also want to give them real in-depth knowledge of what they're doing," Traub said.

Sarah Lemagie • 952-746-3284