DADE CITY — For years, students in east Pasco County who longed to participate in the rigorous academics of the International Baccalaureate program faced a challenge even before they cracked open a textbook.
The closest IB program was at Land O’ Lakes High School, a 23-mile bus ride for Pasco High students in Dade City and a 28-mile trip from Zephyrhills High.
Kim Anderson, principal at Pasco Middle, said too often the distance was a barrier for her school’s high-performing eighth-grade students, with many deciding to pass up IB as they moved on to high school.
“We’ve had fewer kids apply and attend, not because our kids can’t do it, but because it’s so far away,” Anderson said.
Come August, students who seek an academic challenge will find one closer to home. Pasco High and Pasco Middle will be introducing the Cambridge program, a college-preparatory program that’s similar to the IB programs offered at Land O’ Lakes High and Gulf High in New Port Richey.
“I’m really excited about it,” Anderson said. “I think it’s going to benefit our kids. It’s going to stretch our kids to focus on what they can do in postsecondary. And I’m pleased with that.”
The Pasco school district plans a series of meetings for families interested in Cambridge and is getting the word out to parents of students at schools throughout east Pasco. The meetings are for parents of students who will be entering sixth through 10th grade next year. Kids don’t have to be zoned for Pasco High or Pasco Middle to apply.
The first meeting will be at 6 p.m. Monday at the Pasco Middle auditorium, at 13925 14th St. Meetings also are set for Dec. 3 in the Centennial Middle cafeteria and Dec. 5 in the Wesley Chapel High media center.
District officials say the meetings will give parents an opportunity to learn more about the program and its benefits and application and acceptance requirements and to participate in breakout sessions and ask questions.
Cambridge was developed by the University of Cambridge in England and has more than 8 million diploma candidates each year in 160 countries. As with IB and Advanced Placement programs, students in Cambridge have the opportunity to earn college credits as well as become better prepared for postsecondary education.
School board member Allen Altman has been a longtime advocate for bringing such a program to east Pasco, but budget woes stood in the way.
“We battled budget cuts from the state for the last six years and finally are seeing a glimmer of hope there,” Altman said. “I’m just really, really pleased to be able to be spending time focusing on enhancing student achievement and providing additional opportunities for our students.”
In the past year the district researched options, he said, and Cambridge seemed the perfect fit.
Anderson said she knew nothing about Cambridge at that point.
To learn more, she and Pasco High Principal Kari Kadlub traveled to Boca Raton to meet with Cambridge coordinators and principals. They also visited Brevard County schools that offer the Cambridge program, such as Rockledge High and John F. Kennedy Middle.
“I was impressed with the number of students who participated in Cambridge one way or another,” Anderson said.
Nearly 50 percent of the Rockledge students were either working toward a Cambridge diploma or enrolled in a single Cambridge class, she said.
Kadlub said she had the opportunity to talk with high school students in Brevard and that their testimonials about Cambridge clinched things for her.
“That’s what sold me on it,” she said.
She said Pasco High students who made the trek to Land O’ Lakes for IB boarded buses before sunrise and returned to Dade City about 4 p.m. The distance made it difficult for them to participate in extracurricular activities.
“Having something on this side that is very comparable to IB opens up more opportunities for them, so they are getting the chance to be that well-rounded student,” Kadlub said. “They will have the rigorous studies but also stay involved in the school. It opens a lot of doors for kids.”
The Cambridge program also should mesh well with an AVID program that now is in its third year at Pasco High, said Mignon Edwards, the school’s career resource specialist and Cambridge coordinator.
AVID stands for Advancement Via Individual Determination and targets students who “have potential to soar” but need additional support to give them that added boost, Edwards said.
The goal is for the students to attend a four-year college, and on the way to accomplishing that they enroll in honors, AP and dual enrollment classes. Cambridge will give the AVID students an additional avenue as they sign up for rigorous academic courses, she said.