The classical education method thriving at The Cambridge School

By Karen Billing

In 2006, Jeanne Kim started The Cambridge School with just nine students. Her vision was a school that was both Christian and academically rigorous, using the proven methods of a classical education.

In the years that followed, Cambridge, located just off SR-56 on Black Mountain Road, has grown to include 150 students in grades kindergarten prep through seventh grade, drawing in people from all over the region.

“The growth has been amazing,” said Jeffrey Yoder, director of advancement, noting they have added a grade every year and aim to offer kindergarten prep through 12th grade in the future, likely outgrowing their small but cozy campus.

What has made Cambridge successful is also what makes it unique in San Diego: the classical education.

The classical education method originated in Greece and Rome, educating great minds such as Plato, Aristotle and William Shakespeare, and remaining the norm until the 1850s. The method employs the principles of the Trivium, broken up into grammar; knowledge of basic facts; logic; organizing and analyzing relationships concerning those facts; and rhetoric, communicating those conclusions in a clear, persuasive and winsome manner. Students are typically working in grammar up to sixth grade, continue to the logic stage through early high school, and wrap up their high school education in the rhetoric stage.

“Students are given the building blocks of education,” Yoder said. “They’re teaching children how to learn, not just what to learn.”

“Cambridge really sets themselves apart,” said Mitchell Dong, marketing and communications coordinator. “The term ‘classical education’ can be thrown around a bit but going to the depth we’re going here, we haven’t seen it anywhere…By equipping these kids to think well, and to process and communicate concisely and persuasively, you’re equipping them to be not just students but be good thinkers and humans outside of school.”

At Cambridge, every subject is integrated. As a class takes on Bible studies, they are learning about the history and the science of that time. For example, in studying Egypt they will mummify a chicken and create a pulley system using the physics of the time.

“With integration, everything is connected and clicks,” Dong said. “There’s an excitement about learning that you can feel in the air.”

Starting in kindergarten, the students learn Latin and Mandarin. They learn Singapore Math, a method of teaching that builds conceptual understanding of math instead of memorization of rules. Children have music and art every day, and every Friday the students present songs and recite “memory work” of what they are learning in front of the rest of the school.

The school also offers after-school enrichment in choir, fencing, math club and has just started to flush out its athletic program as its student population has become older. The school now has cross country and basketball teams.

What the children are learning is impressive: Fourth graders are reading the original text of “Beowulf.”

“You think it would be too much and they would be taxed by it, but the wonderment comes first and then it makes the work less onerous because they’re so excited by it,” Yoder said.

Yoder, new to the school since July, has noticed an excitement in his second and fourth grade children. At Thanksgiving, a second grade student addressed a room of adults and said a table blessing in Latin, completely unintimidated because performance is such a normal part of the student’s school day.

When students arrive every morning, Kim or another staff member is there to greet them. The students shake hands and say “Good morning” as they pass through the door.

“These are common courtesies that the modern era thinks are assumed,” Yoder said. “We forget that it needs to be taught to them. We teach it to them: Saying hello, shaking hands, boys open the doors for ladies. We’re trying to hold onto those traditions and bring them back.”

To allow prospective parents to learn more about the school, Cambridge will host Open House events on Dec. 14 and Jan. 18. Open House visits are held during the school day. An “Info Night” is also scheduled for Jan. 24, with presentations from a parent, student, teacher and the head of school. To make a reservation or for more information on the school, visit www.cambridgeclassical.org.

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