In fall, GHS will offer Cambridge curriculum


Published: Friday, January 30, 2004 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Friday, January 30, 2004 at 12:51 a.m.
Starting this fall, some incoming Gainesville High School freshmen will have a new opportunity to test their study skills and earn college credit that's accepted by universities around the world.
A curriculum called the Cambridge Program is being introduced for the first time in Gainesville by school administrators with hopes of offering students more comprehensive and challenging classes and also a chance to earn college credit, said GHS Principal Wiley Dixon.
The program, which is similar to the Advanced Placement and International Baccalaureate programs for high-achieving students, will be offered to 100 ninth-graders starting this fall and will be available to one more grade level with each passing year, Dixon said.
Like AP and IB, students will be in accelerated classes and will take examinations to determine if they will receive college credit for their semester's work. The examinations are administered through Cambridge University in England, but high schools decide how they want to run the curriculum. Their responsibility is to prepare students to take the tests.
"I think there is some prestige that's attached to a high school that is a Cambridge school," Dixon said. "If you receive a Cambridge certificate it's recognized in universities all over the world."
Like IB, students can work for a certificate of completion, having to fulfill the four-year requirements and pass a final exam.
But with Cambridge, students can also choose just to receive credit for individual classes, similar to the AP program, Dixon said.
Although GHS offers AP courses, administrators wanted to take it further and offer a more challenging and flexible program. Dixon said if course material overlaps between AP and the Cambridge classes, students will be able to take both tests at the end of the semester.
He said the faculty liked the Cambridge program better than the their AP curriculum.
Teachers and administrators have attended training sessions and visited schools that already have the program, and although some teachers were apprehensive about overhauling their teaching plans, Dixon said the faculty is excited about a more advanced program.
He said the Cambridge program has become more popular in Florida in recent years, with schools such as Bay High School in Panama City and St. Augustine High School already running well-established programs.
Bay High's version of the Cambridge program, called the Advanced International Certificate of Education, has had a successful run since 1999, when its first class graduated, said Kris Palfrey, director of the program.
Palfrey said Bay High's program is similar in style to college classes, with students being able to concentrate more on mathematics or English courses if they prefer.
"In our situation, it's very popular because of the flexibility of the program," she said. "There's no one class they have to take."
Dixon said GHS administrators hope the curriculum attracts top-notch students from the Gainesville area, but it will not be a magnet program. The classes first will be offered to GHS students, and the leftover spots will be available to non-GHS students who will have to provide their own transportation. Students will be accepted into the program based on their grade-point average, FCAT scores, teacher recommendations and one writing sample, he said.
For 22 years, Gainesville's Eastside High School has run a successful IB magnet program that has established a good reputation with parents, students and college admission officers, and it may take a while for a program like Cambridge to become a popular choice with area students, said Shifa Hussain, an IB counselor at Eastside.
She said the main selling point with IB is its comprehensive curriculum that includes extracurricular activities and has a stellar reputation with colleges such as UF, which accepts more IB students than any other university. This year Eastside's program has more than 600 students.
"IB has been in Alachua County long enough to still have a huge drawing," she said. "It's done really well in the past few years."
Sandy Hollinger, a deputy superintendent with the Alachua County School Board, said she doesn't expect GHS's program to draw students away from Eastside for the first few years because teachers will need some time to develop Cambridge. Both programs will be successful, even with competition, because the curriculums are different enough that they will provide for all types of Gainesville students, she added.
"It's just enhancing the choices in Gainesville," Hollinger said.

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