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Students stage protests to save Intensive Studies Program in Cambridge

Posted by Brock Parker  November 15, 2011 11:50 AM

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Students organized a protest outside Cambridge City Hall last Friday to rally in support of the Intensive Studies Program that is being evaluated by the school district. Courtesy Photo by Freedom Baird.

A group of 11- to 13-year-old students in Cambridge have been organizing protests and circulating a petition in an effort to save a program for academically motivated students in the public schools.

The students, including seventh graders Mariamawit “Mary” Gashaw and Caley DeLancey who’ve helped spearhead the charge, say they fear the school district is seeking to get rid of the Intensive Studies Program for students in the middle grades in the public school district.

Mary, who is 12, said the intensive program pushes her to learn in a way other classes have not, and she and fellow students led rallies in Harvard Square and outside City Hall last week in protest of an evaluation of the program that could lead to its elimination.

“I wasn’t happy about it and I wanted my thoughts and opinion to be heard,” said Gashaw, who is a student at the Kennedy Longfellow School in Cambridge.

The Intensive Studies Program is being evaluated as part of Cambridge Superintendent of School’s Jeffrey Young’s “Innovation Agenda” that will re-organize the structure in which the school district educates students in the middle grades by establishing “upper schools” for students in the 6th through 8th grades, as opposed to the district’s current model of kindergarten through 8th grade schools.

The School Committee approved the establishment of the upper schools in March, but the planning for the re-organization is ongoing and the district intends to implement the final plan in the fall of 2012.

Young said there is no specific proposal on the table to eliminate the Intensive Studies Program, but the school district has hired an outside consultant, Nancy Brigham Associates, to evaluate the program.

The evaluation includes observing the Intensive Studies classes at the Peabody and Kennedy Longfellow schools, where the program is housed, as well following up to see what becomes of the students as they go to high school, and determining which students throughout the city typically apply to the program.

The results of the evaluation will be reported back to the School Committee at a meeting at the end of this month or in early December, and the school district won’t make a decision on what it wants to do with the Intensive Studies Program until that time, Young said. He said the decision that needs to be made will be how the school district is going to challenge all of its students, including those who are struggling, and those who are accelerated.

He said there is a chance the program could be eliminated.

“When you reorganize the way that we have, all programs, be it (the Intensive Studies Program), or language or math, gets a second look to see how it fits in with the new approach,” Young said.

Cayley DeLancey, who is 13, attends classes in the Intensive Studies Program at the Kennedy Longfellow School, said she said she enjoys being surrounded by motivated students with fewer distractions in the classroom.

“You can go really deep and learn more, so I’m not bored in class,” she said.

Her father, John DeLancey, said his daughter never wanted to go to school before she joined the Intensive Studies Program, but now she loves school. He said the program has been successful and many people depend on it, so he’s not sure why it would be eliminated.

He said it’s been cool to see the kids organizing protests to save the progam.

“The kids love it, and they’re doing all of this themselves,” DeLancey said.

Young said he admires and respects the students for taking the initiative to speak out for what they believe in.

“I hope that is a trait that they carry with them their entire lifetime,” he said.

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