GREEN COVE SPRINGS – Pre-Cambridge school pathways began this year and the district already is seeing tremendous results.
Offered at three elementary and junior highs, Pre-Cambridge schools provides students a pathway of a more-challenging and rewarding education. After the University of Cambridge’s official school walkthrough and assessment, Green Cove Springs Junior High became one of six schools in the Clay County School District to offer this unique choice in education.
“We had started the process last year in having the conversations around making sure that the level of rigor was evident in the classroom, the teaching and learning,” principal Jennifer Halter said. “Basically, even though it is a program within our school, our entire school takes the approach, so my entire staff is trained on (Cambridge) attributes as well.”
The 2019-20 school year marks Year 1 at Green Cove and there already are 75 students in the program. Halter said that number is expected to double next year because of the 75 students are in seventh grade. Their Cambridge education will continue into eighth grade and into the AICE, AP or other advanced education programs in high school. As they move into eighth grade, about another 75 will move to the seventh-grade program.
Superintendent Addison Davis said the Cambridge education path is set up to take a student from elementary school to high school. A student might begin this pathway at Charles E. Bennett, which is one of the district’s three elementary schools offering this program, to Green Cove Junior and capstone their pre-collegiate education Fleming Island High. Halter said two-thirds of Green Cove students are zoned for Fleming Island, so after completing eighth grade, they can apply to the school’s AICE program.
“It can be all-encompassing for a student that wants to be on it (the pathway),” Davis said.
From the outside looking in, a Cambridge classroom looks the same as any classroom at Green Cove. But it only takes a few minutes to spot the differences. In the Cambridge classrooms, science, language arts and algebra, students are often encouraged to work through problems with their classmates. Students might solve a bell-ringer algebra problem or write a short essay based on a bell-ringer prompt on a classroom laptop.
Halter said the classrooms are one-to-one, which means that every student has access to a laptop to use during class. While standard classrooms use the minutes after a bell rings for things like role call and reviewing the previous day’s assignments, students immediately get to work in the Cambridge classrooms with a bell-ringer prompt that describes that day’s lesson.
“Our teachers are using every minute to soak into these kids,” Davis said.
Halter said that already in the first year, both students and parents have voiced their excitement in the unique style of education.
“They love it,” Halter said. “They love the high rigor and high engagement and like I said, we take that approach to every classroom in Green Cove, but when you walk into those rooms. It’s a different feel.”
Halter said teachers do less active teaching while facilitating education.
“Our teachers, as they like to say, are more activators of learning and they’re facilitating more than directing instruction,” Halter said. “Cambridge likes to do more of an inquisitive, ‘here’s a problem and now let’s solve it together,’ approach.”
The school’s Cambridge coordinator, Asst. Principal Monica Green, said the program teaches students to look at how they learn. She said it’s a collaborative process where teachers collaborate with students more than any other type of classroom to solve problems.
Halter said this type of engagement is encouraged across the entire campus, though, as even the non-Cambridge teachers are trained in the Cambridge ways.
For those who attended school in the district as early as 10 years ago, words like Cambridge might seem foreign. AP and AICE programs have been a part of the district’s choice programs, but as each year passes, Davis and his staff, who are working to bring the district to a No. 1 ranking in the state, are adding new and effective methods of education to each school’s repertoire. For six schools in the district, the Cambridge pathway is just that.
“The workforce is ever changing as is our society,” Davis said. “We have to think differently within our school district to change with it so what are we going to do to create accelerators within our classrooms and push them intellectually where they can compete? Well, this is an answer to that.”
Davis said pre-Cambridge and Cambridge classrooms push student educational cognition just as any other classroom would while also affording the students the chance to work collaboratively in team structures and grow independently.
This type of education teaches students how to be problem solvers and information synthesizers in a way that ultimately prepares them for success not only at the high school level, but the collegiate level, too, according to Davis.
The origin of these pathways in Clay County stems from Davis’ desire to create a feeder for AICE programs in the district.
“This was his vision from the get-go,” School Choice and Charter Coordinator Karen McMillan said. “He wanted a pathway that fed to our successful AICE program and so we looked at the junior high schools that fed to Fleming Island High School and Oakleaf High School so naturally, it was Green Cove and Lakeside and Oakleaf that fed to those.
“From there, we then looked at how to support the junior high with our elementary students and that’s how those bridges were created.”
Halter said a Cambridge student has an intense educational rigor. They can write, speak, debate, problem solve, work independently and codependently interchangeably and that ultimately, are in control of their educational process.
As the district continues to work toward achieving the coveted distinction as the top-rated school district in Florida, a title currently held by neighboring St. Johns, Davis said Cambridge pathways is another tool in an ever-growing toolbox to make that jump.
“Ultimately, our goal is to become the No. 1 school district in the state and that’s a large task because St. Johns continues to be fluent every single year,” Davis said. “However, we know without a doubt that our students in Clay County can perform just as well as they do.
“We believe that this is only going to help us from a state ranking perspective but more importantly, it’s going to help us create a mentality that tells our learners that he or she can go on to become whatever they want to be in our community, nation and world.”