Program adds depth to Yuma education
The Helios Education Foundation recently awarded the Yuma Union High School District a $3.9 million grant for the Ready Now Yuma program, with the goal of having every graduate prepared to succeed in a college or a career. This series will look at the funding, how it will be used, and what the implications are for YUHSD. Today's story looks at the Cambridge curriculum, which will now be used for freshmen and sophomores at YUHSD.
Over the years, high school education has become “a mile wide and an inch deep,” according to a local educator.
So many standards have been added that today's schools are asking students to master 12 years of learning in four years, said Jaime Sheldahl, Yuma Union High School District associate superintendent.
As a result, nothing is covered in-depth, he said. “A little bit is taught, the students are tested and they move on, forgetting what they learned.”
But that's all changing for YUHSD students with the district's adoption of a new approach to learning, Ready Now Yuma, that promises to produce better-educated students with the skills needed to help the community thrive and grow.
A cornerstone to the new approach is the use of the Cambridge curriculum, developed by the University of Cambridge in England and widely used around the world. It's now taught to 3.4 million students in 150 countries.
Now in its second year in Yuma, the curriculum will be used for all freshmen and sophomores in the district, Sheldahl said.
“Our focus is making learning narrower and deeper,” he said.
The end goal, he said, is students who will become deeper thinkers.
For example, Sheldahl said, typically a world history class would cover 10,000 years in two semesters.
With the Cambridge curriculum, the focus is an in-depth study on a few centuries. That might mean a month to six weeks spent on World War I and World War II and the social, cultural and historical issues in Germany that led to the wars.
“We say cause and effect,” Sheldahl said. “In England they say cause and consequences.”
The teacher would provide some background and guiding questions, then students working in teams would research and develop a project.
Over the years, Sheldahl said, education has become test-oriented. “We've narrowed our focus on passing the AIMS test with its emphasis on reading and math.”
The Cambridge curriculum broadens that base to four core subjects to include science and history as well as math and English. A lot of writing is also involved.
Rather than teachers standing up and lecturing, they become facilitators, putting the students in the position of needing to explore the material, Sheldahl said.
As a result, the students understand and remember the material and are able to apply what they've learned to other applications.
That not only helps them become better students, they also do better on the AIMS test, he said.
And they do better in life as they go on to college, enter a trade school, pursue special interests or join the workforce, he said.
According to multiple sources, 62 percent of jobs will require college education by 2018; more than half will require at least a bachelor's degree.
“We're not saying that all students should go to college,” Sheldahl said. “But they all need to read at a high school level, problem solve, apply learning to multiple areas and work collaboratively. So we believe all students should be in the Cambridge curriculum.”
Another benefit is the confidence students gain as they accomplish tasks on their own, said Laura Campbell, a ninth-grade biology teacher at Gila Ridge High School who has taken on a new role as director of Ready Now Yuma.
“I had several students say they didn't know they were smart until they took my class. The kids were doing amazing things. We're really working for success in the upper grades so students have more opportunities.”
And they become excited about a future for themselves they never dreamed of before, Campbell said.
This bodes well for the community as well as it gains a more skilled workforce and more productive citizens, she said.
Julie Engel, president and CEO of Greater Yuma Economic Development Corp., agrees.
The benefits of increasing education attainment of every Arizona and Yuma County student include:
• More qualified workers to fill increasingly complex positions
• Higher average incomes
• Greater average disposable income to drive consumer demand
• Increased consumer purchasing power
• More residents with health insurance coverage
• Less demand on public services and benefits
• Greater per-capita tax revenue
• Increased ability to attract quality businesses “The kids will be better educated,” Engel said, and better equipped to face life's challenges, whether going on to college or joining the work force.
They will have the skills that employers say they need among their employees that are too often lacking today.
Short term, the program will boost economic development efforts by demonstrating to management of prospective businesses that the high-quality education they want for their children is available in Yuma.
Longer-term, the program will provide a pipeline of skilled workers prospective businesses will need.
“Absolutely, it's a recruitment tool,” Engel said. “If people want the community to thrive, whether they have children in school or not, we have to grow our work force.”
And if people want higher end businesses like Trader Joe's, they will need to invest in the community through education, she noted.
What is the Helios Education Foundation?
The Helios Education Foundation is focused on creating a high-expectations, college-going culture in Arizona and Florida by investing in initiatives that create opportunities for postsecondary education success. The foundation is contributing its leadership, expertise and financial resources to improve the academic performance of students, with an emphasis on STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics), to better prepare students to compete and succeed in a globally competitive economy. Since 2006, Helios has invested over $115 million in education-related programs and initiatives in Florida and Arizona.
The foundation was created in 2004 through the conversion, reorganization and sale of Southwest Student Services Corporation (Southwest), and its affiliates Arizona Educational Loan Marketing Corporation (AELMAC) and Florida Educational Loan Marketing Corporation (FELMAC). Southwest was a full-service provider of student loan products and services to students, families and schools in Arizona, Florida and nationally. At the time of the reorganization, Southwest was the eighth-largest holder of federally insured student loans in the country. And upon its sale to SLM Corporation, the $500 million in net proceeds was used to create an endowment for Helios Education Foundation to support its work in creating opportunities for individuals to succeed in postsecondary education.
To learn more, visit http://www.helios.org.