By Nancy Richie
At Manatee Middle School, the teachers and sixth-grade students didn’t slow down just because school was winding down for the summer. For eight weeks, they worked hard, researching their own Southwest Florida backyards. This hands-on, end-of-the-school-year research assignment is part of the Collier County Public School (CCPS) Pre-Laureate writing program.
CCPS’s most capable students have the opportunity to pursue an AP Laureate diploma, the most demanding CCPS diploma available. This Laureate Program continues to grow with 80 Laureate graduates from five high schools this past year, compared with just three at one school when the program began 17 years ago. Students begin developing research skills in fourth grade and continue into high school, where they may participate in the Advance Placement (AP) Laureate degree program.
In middle school, the pre-laureate program introduces students to the research-based writing process. The students choose a topic, narrow their focus and style of writing, locate sources, take notes, cite sources and publish a final research paper. The entire process takes six to eight weeks. In addition, the students create a visual presentation and can choose ideas, such as a PowerPoint, Prezi, brochure, or a poster, to display their research in an interesting way. At Manatee Middle School, sixth graders are on the pathway to their AP Laureate diploma.
Jill Baldwin, sixth-grade Language Arts teacher, stated, “This year the Manatee sixth grade teachers chose to research the Everglades and Big Cypress because our students visit the Big Cypress Panther Preserve each year for a science fieldtrip. This was a great opportunity to integrate their research writing skills with their real world experiences.”
Emily Louwsma, sixth-grade teacher and previous Lely High School graduate, contacted her friends at Rookery Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve, Fakahatchee Strand Preserve, and Big Cypress National Preserve, while Baldwin contacted the city of Marco Island’s environmental specialist to visit and view some of the top student’s work. The professional biologists, naturalists and resource managers met the pre-laureate students in a science fair-type atmosphere where the students’ projects were displayed, and they were ready to present one-on-one. The teachers said this event motivated the students to complete their projects and afforded them the opportunity to discuss their research topics with accomplished scientists.
Students’ projects focused on endangered species such as the Florida Panther, Manatee and even the Ghost Orchid. Some researched the devastation of the invasive python in the Everglades’ ecosystem. One explored why fire is important in Big Cypress. Each student was enthusiastic to present their research and confidently add their opinions while conversing with the scientists. Other classmates also had the chance to see the topics displayed creatively on posters, on laptops or in hand-drawn graphic brochures.
Concluding the school year while successfully presenting their research to their teachers, peers and scientists was inspiring and meaningful. Many of the students reported they plan to read books this summer about the animals and environment they have learned about and now want to save. The teachers’ high expectations and scholastic skills guiding these students toward the AP Laureate achievement is a win-win for our community and environment in Southwest Florida.
As the school motto says, the Manatee Middle School Hurricanes certainly do “ROAR” — Responsible Organized Accomplished Respected.