Skylar Ward and Marlea Feld always breezed through their academic classes.
"They're really easy," said Marlea.
They said they hadn't felt challenged by their classes until last year when as seventh-graders, they were enrolled in a pilot program Lakeside Junior High school offered that allowed them to take pre-AICE level classes.
AICE (Advanced International Certificate of Education) classes are college-level classes, typically only offered to high school students. This year, Clay County has adopted a different advanced program called Cambridge Pathway, designed by the University of Cambridge in the United Kingdom. It will be available to all grade levels of students who are considered advanced.
The program applies to subjects like math, English, science, history and some electives.
Julie Gaul is an AICE teacher at Lakeside and loves the opportunity to be able to teach from a program that requires students to dig deeper into a topic.
"Some of these kids are so smart, they never had to study until they came to the Cambridge program, and now they're having to study and make an effort to make the grades," Gaul said.
Skylar has loved it so far.
"I really liked the algebra course because it really was like a high school course and I get high school credit for it. It was really interesting to do that kind of challenging math," she said.
Her father, Kevin Ward, said he and his wife have already seen a difference.
"It's created some really good study habits for Skylar because she's not waiting until the last night. She studies two weeks in advance for a test," he explained.
He said his daughter has never felt like she had to study very hard because the courses until now, have been easy for her. Lakeside Junior High Principal Ivin Gunder said he thinks the new program will have a long-lasting impact on students.
"The rigorous content prepares them for college and life as well. It helps them with life skills, which we all need on a daily basis," Ward said.
Clay County students from kindergarten through eighth grade can now take the advanced level classes as part of the Cambridge Pathway program. Cambridge Primary is now available starting this school year to kindergarten through second-grade students at Charles E. Bennett and Plantation Oaks elementary students. Fifth- and sixth-grade students who attend Fleming Island Elementary are also able to enroll.
Pre-AICE classes are now being offered to seventh graders who attend Lakeshore Junion, Green Cove Junior High and Oakleaf Junior High. The program will expand next school year to eighth-graders. Eighth-graders at Lakeshore Junior are already able to enroll.
The AICE program is also available at Fleming Island and Oakleaf high schools. Admittance is based on test scores and teacher recommendations.