Collier County Public Schools (CCPS) introduced the Cambridge Secondary Program - An advanced studies program for middle school students - this school year. Students in 6th, 7th, and 8th grade across Collier currently are enrolled in Cambridge, and rising 5th graders will be applying this month. As the program was brand-new to middle school parents, teachers, and administrators, there was a steep learning curve, but now mid-way through the second half of the school year, most everyone appears in have settled into Cambridge.
Cambridge Secondary essentially is designed for higher level students. It “builds skills, knowledge, and understanding in the content area courses of English language arts, mathematics, science, and social studies,” said Gregory Turchetta, executive director of Communications and Community Engagement for CCPS. “The curriculum is designed to meet the needs of the most advanced learner with an emphasis on creativity, innovation, and scholarly discourse. Throughout the Cambridge Secondary experience, students develop the skills and content knowledge necessary to meet the demands of advanced course work and ultimately transition successfully to the high school setting.”
Students who are identified as gifted or who have high standard- ized test scores and grade point averages are invited to apply for the program. The application process has several components. “Participation is not automatic or guaranteed," said Turchetta. "Students choose to complete an application which includes a student-parent agreement detailing commitment to participation in Cambridge Secondary, a student self-assessment, and two short response questions. The applications are reviewed at each school site, and applicants are considered based on academic excellence, commitment to the pro- gram, involvement in outside activities, attendance, and behavior.”
Cambridge Secondary is a significant commitment for families considering entering the program at the middle school level. Students who begin in the year in Cambridge may not switch out to other classes during the course of the year. However, students may choose not to continue with the program the following school year. And students may apply in 6th, 7th, or 8th grade (if they qualify). The program involves high expectations of behavior and achievement, along with a hefty workload. Turchetta pointed out, though, that students are encouraged to utilize their strengths when approaching the content. “As with any course, homework and assessment expecta- tions vary according to the student’s individual strengths. Therefore, what some students may find challenging, others will find easy. The goal of Cambridge Secondary is to provide not more homework or assessments, but rather homework or assessments which meet the cognitive abilities of the students.”
CCPS plans to continue Cambridge at the middle school level and expand it to elementary schools as well. “The district’s high schools have offered Cambridge courses, known as Advanced International Certificate of Education (AICE) courses, alongside Advanced Placement and dual enrollment courses as part of the high school’s advance studies options,” Turchetta explained. “This is the inaugural year for Cambridge Secondary in the middle schools, and the goal is to expand exposure into the elementary schools next year through Cambridge Primary.” Both secondary and primary programs are designed “to meet the needs of students identified as gifted or high achieving,” he added.
What the students have to say
Rachel Newman, contributor to Neapolitan Family Magazine and sixth grade student at Pine Ridge Middle School (PRMS), shares about the performance task requirements, “I enjoy some of the performance tasks – recent performance tasks in Language Arts have involved creating slideshows to present for the class about animals. I
created a presentation about the Langur Monkey, and now we have to complete a performance task slideshow on a natural disaster.” When asked about the challenges she has experienced, Rachel candidly explains, “There is a lot of homework involved. Cambridge is a lot of burning the candle at both ends. There is also a summer assignment over break – it takes a lot of work and time.”
Rachel has some sound advice for parents and their students considering Cambridge Secondary for the coming school year. “I’d advise those considering the program to look at their child’s progress in math and language arts. Those are the two main subjects that Cambridge seems to incorporate. Those considering entering Cambridge should be devoted students; if kids are not entirely ready for hard work, Cambridge may not be a good choice.”
Mary, mom of a sixth grade student in Cambridge Secondary at Oakridge Middle School, shares her daughter’s passion for the program. “She is self-motivated and begins assignments right away, so completing the class work and homework has not been an issue for her. She has really benefitted from this challenging academic program, and she loves it!”
Though her daughter really enjoys Cambridge Secondary, the first quarter brought some challenges in terms of the work load. “During the first marking period, we felt our daughter was assigned way too much homework. I’m not sure how other parents and students felt about the work load, but fortunately, assignments have lessened as the year has gone on. We are thankful!” Mary’s sixth grader really enjoys the company of other students in her class. “Discipline does not seem to be an issue in any of her Cambridge classes. Her classmates know how they are expected to behave, and they follow the rules. She likes how strict her teachers are, and how they expect the best from their students.”
Another parent of a Cambridge Secondary student (and co- publisher of Neapolitan Family Magazine), Stacy Nicolau, has a son in eighth grade at Pine Ridge Middle School. “Alex was invited to apply for Cambridge Secondary because of his grades and standardized test scores.” Both Stacy and her son enjoy the program. “I like that the program positions him with very motivated students. There is a lot of group work and discussion in the classes. Alex likes it because many of his friends are in the program. He feels his teachers are engaged with the students. One thing I noticed during curriculum night was that each teacher stated how much they enjoyed having the Cambridge students and found them rewarding to teach.” The workload has not been any more stressful for Alex than when he was in regular advanced classes at PRMS.
For those considering Cambridge, Stacy recommends attending info sessions and reading online, along with asking about other’s experiences with the program. Her experience has been very positive. “We have had no negative experiences with the program in middle school. My daughter has taken several AICE classes in high school, and it makes scheduling a lot more complicated, particularly because she likes to take Advanced Placement classes also.”
Josh Costain, eighth grade student at North Naples Middle School, enjoys Cambridge Secondary because of the variety of learn- ing activities and opportunities available to students. “There are a lot of student-led activities. We write short responses and answer text-evidential questions – we have to think outside the box.” His favorite component of the program? “There are a lot of involved projects, which I love! The different style of learning is still new for me. But I would absolutely recommend this program to students and their parents.”