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Cambridge offers a tougher academic option for kids

Randy Kaczor works as the principal at Sacajawea Middle School and as the director of the Cambridge program.  - Kyra Low/staff photo
Randy Kaczor works as the principal at Sacajawea Middle School and as the director of the Cambridge program.
— image credit: Kyra Low/staff photo

Cambridge. For many the word sparks up images of England, college life or academic successes. But for some students in Federal Way Public Schools, it’s just the word they use to describe their busy and intense academic workload.

These students are part of the Cambridge program in Federal Way, a curriculum designed by the University of Cambridge International, which has programs in 160 countries.

“It really appealed to us,” Cambridge Director Randy Kaczor. “The global connection.”

Federal Way is the only school district on the West Coast that has the Cambridge Program. The program is more prevalent on the East Coast, although neighboring schools like Auburn are looking into the program.

The history of the program

The Cambridge program came to Federal Way in the fall of 2002, starting at Federal Way High School as a way to add a tougher academic option to the school to make it comparable to the Advanced Placement (AP) and International Baccalaureate (IB) programs at the other high schools.

What began as a ninth- through 12th-grade school within a school, quickly spread to Lakota and Sacajawea middle schools and this year to three elementary schools — Adelaide, Lake Grove and Wildwood — as part of the Gates program.

Students in Cambridge are selected based on their test scores, grade-point average and teacher recommendations for the middle-school and high-school levels. In the elementary level, it is the same criteria as the Gates Foundation, which Kaczor described as “holistic.”

In the elementary level, students are required to take the Cambridge-designed curriculum for math, English and science. In middle schools, Spanish is added as a foreign language. This is the only foreign language offered at the middle-school level in the Federal Way district.

The high school levels also have a Cambridge-designed social studies.

Challenging students

The academic levels at the Cambridge program are much higher than the regular coursework. In addition to learning a foreign language much younger than their peers, students also begin chemistry and physics in sixth grade.

“The most challenging aspect is making sure students are continually challenged,” Cambridge teacher Joyce Gran said. “There has to be learning taking place. It’s done on different levels, the higher levels and deeper levels of thinking.”

Kaczor says the program is comparable to the AP and IB classes students often take in their 11th- and 12th-grade years, however Cambridge is much more rigorous than other classes that are offered in students’ freshman and sophomore years.

The rigor of the coursework is often daunting for students, Kaczor said, and many who are in the program in middle school don’t plan on continuing at Cambridge for their high school years.

Part of the reason why Cambridge is so tough for students is that unlike AP classes, where you can take just one class, students in Cambridge must agree to take five classes, leaving them just one elective.

Seventh grader Samantha Robins is in her second year in the Cambridge program at Sacajawea, however she doesn’t plan on continuing next year in high school.

“It’s probably going to be too hard,” she said. “My sister has friends who are are struggling with it and they aced it in middle school.”

About half of Robins’ class plans on continuing into high school, some though not by their own choice.

“My parents are making me,” seventh grader Kayla Quiroga said. “I am excited but the hard part is all the tests and studying. It will help me get a better education, though, and be successful.”

The pay off for those students who join Cambridge can be high. Similar to the AP and IB classes, some college credit is given for passing the examinations. Students are also well prepared for college, Kaczor said. The program even has kids who were pulled out of private school and put in the program and students from out of the district who travel everyday to the schools for the program. Some from as far away as Renton and Seattle.

The program is doing well. Recently eight students from the Cambridge program were given a Brilliance Award by Cambridge International for their scores on the International General Certificate of Secondary Education.

For more information on the Cambridge Program visit www.cie.org.uk or www.schools.fwps.org/fwhs/cambridge.

Staff writer Kyra Low: 925-5565, klow@fedwaymirror.com

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