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School board briefed on learning program proposals

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LAND O’ LAKES — Several programs presented to school board members Tuesday have the potential of changing the landscape of education in Pasco County.

A program mixing on-campus and virtual schooling, another based on Cambridge University teachings and a third bringing an aeronautical program to the county were introduced during a workshop for Pasco County School Board members.

The blended learning program allows students to split their weekdays learning in a classroom and on a computer at home.

For example, a student could have classes on campus on Mondays and Wednesday and participate in online instruction, which includes video conferences with teachers, on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Fridays would be time for “enrichment or intervention services” on campus.

The program, which will be tested first at Wiregrass Ranch High School at the start of the 2014-15 school year, is expected to alleviate school crowding.

“Not just solving the overcrowding trouble, but really kick-starting the future,” Assistant Superintendent for Administration and Operations Ray Gadd said.

Students that are juniors and seniors with at least a 3.0 grade point average will participate in the pilot program, Wiregrass Ranch Principal Robyn White said.

A more global form of education is also being tested at Pasco High and Pasco Middle schools.

The Cambridge Program, which has been introduced to several schools in the state, teaches a form of education pioneered by England’s Cambridge University more than 150 years ago.

The academically challenging Cambridge Program is designed to prepare students for post-secondary education, while at the same time tailoring their studies to individual interests, skills and goals. According to the organization’s website, the program’s aim is to develop students who are confident, responsible, reflective, innovative and engaged.

Public school teachers in the program receive mandatory training through Cambridge.

Eau Gallie High School in Melbourne, Rockledge High School in Brevard County and John F. Kennedy Middle School in Palm Beach County now employ the Cambridge method. It’s in use in 160 countries.

Students are immersed in the program, similar to Advanced Placement and International Baccalaureate, which has more than 70 subjects, including language, math, art and science.

Students must earn six credits to attain the Advanced International Certificate of Education, or AICE, diploma.

Students can earn between 30 and 45 college credit hours in the Cambridge Program.

The amount of homework is lessened, which encourages students to participate in extracurricular activities either at school or in the community.

A study by the University of Florida found freshmen with AICE diplomas finished their freshman year at the school with an average GPA of 3.46. Students who matriculated through an AP program ended their freshman year with a 3.12 GPA, while those from IB had a 3.10.

“In schools where we went to that had AP, when they introduced Cambridge, AP disappeared,” Superintendent of Schools Kurt Browning said. “Students fare better with Cambridge versus AP.”

The program is expected to have a $54,000 price tag during the 2014-15 school year, and rise to $308,000 annually. Browning said the program will pay for itself in four years time due to program incentives that return fees to the schools.

Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University has also chosen Pasco County as a location for one of its career academies.

The school district is currently searching for a location to house the program, which Embry-Riddle will fund. Although nothing has been decided, Zephyrhills High School has been viewed as a front-runner because the Zephyrhills Municipal Airport is nearby.

The dual-enrollment program, which was advocated for the area by state House Speaker Will Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel, allows students to pursue a career in aviation or aerospace.

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