Community members begin to fill the Jim Pignato Theater Thursday night for a open house on the Cambridge Advanced Studies Program. The information session on the college-prep program expanding next school year in Putnam schools ended up filling the large theater to near capacity with parents interested in enrolling their children.
In her first 16 months leading the school district she has served for 29 years, Superintendent Phyllis Criswell has publicly hoped the community would gather in large numbers for positive events in schools.
Last night, she got her wish.
Parents and students filled the Jim Pignato Theater for the district's Cambridge Advanced Studies Open House to hear Cambridge students, Director Dr. Melissa Coleman, Criswell and Cambridge school site directors talk about the program that guarantees a full Florida Bright Futures Scholarship for all graduates.
That scholarship guarantee is what compelled Criswell to choose Cambridge over other college-prep programs endorsed by the state department of education. With Putnam being consistently ranked one of the most impoverished counties in the state, most local families need help to afford their children a college education. That need is part of the reason the district is expanding the program next year. (A chart of locations and available sections for the 2014-15 school year is below)
Coleman, Director of Cambridge in Putnam County, said the program finally gives local children the chance to compete on a level field with students in other Florida counties for college slots.
In traditional high schools, earning full Bright Futures Scholarships is tied to measures the state does not require of Cambridge because of its advanced curriculum.
"Within the Cambridge program there is no GPA nor is there an ACT requirement," Coleman told the crowd.
Cambridge students from Q.I. Roberts helped form a panel on stage with administrators, parents and others.
In a video shown on a theater screen, professors and administrators from colleges around the country praised Cambridge for its students arriving to their universities almost always better prepared than those coming from traditional high school programs.
The audience turned in questions to Coleman, many of which she turned over to her students, including Emily Saccone who was a top eighth-grader at Crescent City Jr./Sr. High School before being accepted into Cambridge for her ninth-grade year.
Students told the crowd -- "yes" they participate in sports -- they also have a band, a drama club and more at Q.I. Roberts. They answered "no" -- they do not have four hours of homework a night and, in fact, the classwork is rigorous enough that it allows for as much time for sports and free time as in other high schools.
Q.I. Roberts Student Historian Hannah Hughes also addressed questions.
"I have softball every day and I have plenty of time to do homework and everything else," Hughes said.
Next year, Interlachen Elementary School will add Cambridge, with grades K-5.
To become a Cambridge instructor, teachers must write essays and develop portfolios of their work with high achieving students.
Criswell said the program is a component in the school district's effort to help move Putnam forward. The large crowd, she said, makes it clear that local parents care deeply about education.
"We will get stronger and better every year."
A chart of Cambridge sites and sections for the 2014-15 school year is displayed before a large crowd Thursday night at the C.L. Overturf Jr. Sixth Grade Center.