Lights dimmed, students in an eighth-grade economics class at Chandler’s Accelerated Middle School at Basha High School use computers to create a budget spreadsheet.
Their teacher, Amanda Cook, has charged them with the task of picking a professional career, exploring the salary range, and determining how they would use that money.
Yes, at 12 and 13 years old, these kids are learning what it takes to pay a mortgage.
This is The Accelerated Middle School, a program that opened this year for students who aim high in education.
In the Chandler Unified School District, the school is housed in three classrooms on the far north side of the Basha campus, away from the high school students. Though there are only about 30 students in the first year, in the future, there could be around 80 students in those three rooms.
Basha High principal Ken James said he came up with the idea for The Accelerated Middle School because of the quest by schools for students.
“It came about because of the competition out there of schools. You have to offer something unique to meet all the needs of all the families,” James said. “There’s not another high school out there that has sixth, seventh and eighth grades on campus.”
Students arrive at the school as early as 7:30 a.m. for optional tutoring or chess. They stay until 4:10 p.m., long after most of the high school students have gone. As a group, they go to the cafeteria for lunch after the older students are back in their classes.
Students take their academic classes together by ability level; eighth-graders take math with the high school students. They are also required to take Mandarin or Spanish, as well as choir, orchestra or band. Uniforms are required.
Under the school’s plans, students in ninth grade should be in at least Algebra II, Advance Placement World History and Biology, honors English and the third level of their language, James said.
“We want them here sixth to 12th grade,” he said.
Kana Li, 11, said she found out about the school when her family came to look at Basha for her older sister, who began at the high school this year. The family moved from an East Valley charter school.
“Everything is so advanced here. It’s such a small class. Everyone knows everyone well,” she said.
That advanced pace follows the main philosophy of the school, Cook said.
“We keep in mind our entire goal is to get them ready for AP (Advance Placement),” she said.
James said if the students stick with the program, and the AP classes, they could have nearly three semesters of college credit prior to leaving high school.
The message is getting out. Students came from within and outside the district borders. Some, like Li, came from charter schools.
“We’ve been able to get new students in the district,” James said. “Whether we like it or not, the charters are having an impact. The difference is we have the whole program and the high school facilities.”
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