A step into any classroom at Cambridge Academy in East Mesa this week will transport visitors across the time spectrum.
To demonstrate what they’ve been studying, the students created different time periods in their rooms. One shows how the earth may have looked during the dinosaurs’ reign. Another gives a glimpse into the future (60 stars on the American flag as Canada’s provinces and each of the Hawaiian islands have joined as different states).
And just listen to the class studying the voting patterns during the election of Abraham Lincoln: They’re aware of who could vote (white men who owned property and/or a business) and the politics of the day (Who has heard of the Constitutional Union party? They have).
The school got its charter in 1999 and began with kindergarten. Amy Monarrez, now principal of the school, said she came from a family of educators. Amy was working at a private preschool location and her dad was teaching at a private kindergarten when her parents said, “Let’s start a school.”
Since then, the Mesa location has grown. There are now 275 students at the Mesa campus in grades kindergarten through eight. A second location operates in Queen Creek with 350 students.
“We love it. We’re all teachers. We feel we have a special school,” Monarrez said.
Apparently so do the parents, who drive their children to the location from all over the East Valley.
To provide a competitive edge, the school launched two programs in the last year: It adopted a “middle school” concept for students in grades five through eight and it became the Arizona pilot site for what Monarrez calls, “The Genius Program.”
The school is required to offer special education by law, but charter schools do not have to offer gifted education. The Genius program, based on a book by a Valley author, helps fill some of the gap. It helps students, working with their parents and teachers, figure out their strengths and interests.
“You need to figure out what the kids are good are at a young age,” Monarrez said. Once a child’s gift is identified, the school tries to find opportunities to develop on that, from giving the students tasks in the classroom to introducing them to subjects like architecture, criminal science and banking.
“We’re just giving them a lot of opportunity to have exposures and experiences to see what fits them,” she said.
The school also offers Rosetta Stone languages for students in kindergarten through eighth grade. Students can work on the computers at school – middle school offers a one-to-one computing program – or log on at home. Five options are available.
Travel is another pick offering at the school. Fourth-graders travel to southern Arizona once a year to see the Kartchner Caverns, Bisbee Queen Mine, Sonoran Desert Museum and more. Fifth-graders head up north to see the Grand Canyon and Sunset Crater. Sixth-graders go to San Diego for an Oceanography Trip. Seventh-graders visit local universities and eighth-graders will tour the Smithsonian Museums in Washington D.C. in the spring (the seventh-grade trip is local to help students save money for the following year, Monarrez said).
“Families tend to come here and stay here and they bring a lot of other families with them,” Monarrez said.
The school received an A this year from the state Department of Education.
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