Students Discuss Smyrna High School’s Cambridge Program
PHOTO / KEITH RYAN CARTWRIGHT

By KEITH RYAN CARTWRIGHT
Rutherford County Schools

After more than a year of planning, Smyrna High School has launched the Cambridge International program.

Designed to stretch, inspire and academically challenge students, the program encourages high level discussions and incorporates current events into a wide range of subjects from U.S. history to biology. Cambridge is comparable to the International Baccalaureate program, dual enrollment, advanced placement courses and other honors-level coursework.

“The fact that we are so diverse at Smyrna High School,” said Nicole Takayama, an assistant principal who will oversee the new program, “Cambridge pulls in perspectives from around the world. In fact, one of the required courses is global perspectives, making it a truly international program.”

Takayama added, “We have so many (academic) options and I’m happy Cambridge is another option.”

In its inaugural year, 32 students have been officially admitted into the program.

They have submitted paperwork, test scores and signed an honor agreement. As classmates learn more about the classroom experiences of the students who have already shown a curiosity in the program, administrators fully expect more students from the Class of 2023 to show an interest in participating in the Cambridge program.

Students in the program are not required to pursue the AICE diploma.

Seven current students — Lorelei Cartee, Lane Crips, Landri Hall, Kalista Lawrence, Logan Stearns, Alissa Whitney and Kellar Williams — recently talked about their curiosity and expectations after applying and being accepted into the Cambridge program at Smyrna.

RCS:What drew you to the Cambridge program?

WHITNEY: Part of it was the opportunity that it provides with scholarships. The nationally recognized diploma, of course, drew me in because I’m very academically focused.

HALL: I thought this program was going to be good because it helps you with college.

CRIPS: I’ve taken quite a few AP classes in the past and I really wanted a new challenge. Cambridge really seemed like it was going to be a rigorous course. There’s going to be like a lot of reading and the class discussions were going to be really open.

WHITNEY: The Cambridge program encourages cognitive thinking, which I think is a life skill that needs to be practiced more because a lot of people tend to have a very narrow mind.

RCS: How important are the class discussions to everyone?

CRIPS: Developing as a classroom really depends on everybody (sharing their) viewpoint. The compilation of ideas really helps the class come together.

CARTEE: With Cambridge you can talk about the things you want to talk about. You can hear other people’s sides and I feel like we teach the teachers sometimes. … It’s really powerful in the classrooms when you hear what everyone thinks about the ideas and they start sharing.

WILLIAMS: I’ve always thought that the students learn from other students. A teacher always does their best to teach one way but maybe hearing it from a different person or a different voice will work as another way to learn for that student.

LAWRENCE: It helps you learn just because of all the different ideas. It gives you more thoughts on that one topic and it’s expanding your mind.

WHITNEY: It creates opportunities for different people to share their viewpoints — one person thinks this and another (person) thinks something completely different.

HALL: People aren’t always going to agree on certain topics. … Like Alissa said, you’re going to find a neutral ground and it’s going to help you.

CARTEE: I feel like we need to have more open discussions and I feel like Cambridge can actually (do) that. … These are real topics that we are going to be talking about in the real world. It’s not only going to be in the classroom, it’s in the business workplace.

STEARNS: I think it’s important not just to learn about the topics, but also learn about your classmates and I think that with an open discussion classroom it’ll be easier to learn about the other students, especially with Smyrna High School, which is very diverse.

RCS: How important is to understand the diversity in your classroom?

CRIPS: A lot of the times when people are talking, they don’t really care about other people’s viewpoints, but once you start getting in a classroom and hearing that these people that you walk among every day, they may not have the same viewpoints as you but if you can open your mind you might (discover) that’s not such a goofy idea.

WILLIAMS: Like Lane said, sometimes we get tunnel vision and while other people are talking, we think about what we’re going to say. A diverse classroom is a different setting and you’ve got to listen.

RCS: A willingness to listen is an example of curiosity. Is curiosity what interested you in the Cambridge program?

WILLIAMS: Curiosity definitely brought me in. … You’re learning from other people and you’re teaching other people and I think that has a longer lasting effect.

WHITNEY: I’m one of those people that likes to know as much as they can. There’s that one quote that you can know a lot about a few things or a (little bit) about a lot of things, and I’d like to be diverse in what I know so that I can help in any situation that arises.

CRIPS: I’m a senior and I took U.S. history last year, but I’m taking the Cambridge U.S. history course again this year. Curiosity brought me in because I’m always curious to learn. I want to know as much as I can. I just want to know more.

LAWRENCE: Curiosity, it’s just now clicked in my brain. I was interested in this class, but I never sat down and thought about it as curiosity and now to know that it was that is amazing.

RCS: What are your expectations?

CARTEE: My expectation for this class is to open up other people’s minds. We don’t want a big fight during class if you talk about politics and we have different views. We might have the same views, but this is supposed to be a safe and welcomed environment.

HALL: I hope that I get more knowledge on things because I’m not very well connected with the world right now and what they’re talking about in these classes, they’re connecting the world to things in the classroom.

WHITNEY: It’s going to educate us on what we can do to fix things. I know with the General Paper class — that a good portion of us are in — is going to teach us about environmental issues and teach us how to get the different viewpoints, how to take those facts and create an argument that shows what’s happening and how we can fix it.

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