The California Academy of Mathematics and Science (CAMS) was conceived in the late 1980s as a comprehensive public high school dedicated to increasing the number of diverse students who enter science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM)-related fields. Its strategy then, as now, was to provide interested students from a broad spectrum of academic and demographic backgrounds with an accelerated curriculum that would engage and challenge them intellectually. CAMS, which opened in 1990 on the California State University, Dominguez Hills (CSUDH) campus, is a joint venture of the California State University Chancellor’s Office; CSUDH; the Long Beach Unified School District, which serves as fiscal agent; and a consortium of ten Los Angeles-area school districts. In addition to CSUDH, its postsecondary partners include El Camino College and Long Beach City College; private-sector partners include Boeing, Northrop Grumman, Raytheon, Chevron and BP, among others, as well as local foundations.
Two thirds of the students are recruited from inner-city schools, and 60% meet the commonly accepted definition of at-risk (single-parent home, low income, non-English speaking home, etc.). Over 45% speak a language other than or in addition to English at home, and 53% participate in the federal lunch program. Defying conventional wisdom, each year, approximately 95% of CAMS seniors go on to four-year colleges and universities, the rest to community colleges. Many of these students are the first in their families to go to college, and generous scholarship awards help them afford higher education. The CAMS Class of 2012 was awarded over $9 million in private and university scholarships.
A leader in educational reform locally, statewide and nationally, CAMS was named a California Distinguished School in 2003 and 2009 and a U.S. Department of Education Blue Ribbon School in 2004 and 2011. The school has continued to sustain the high academic performance that led to these honors, ranking third statewide in standardized test scores, with an Academic Performance Index (API) of 975 in 2012. In 2011, CAMS was honored as a finalist for high school science in the Intel Schools of Distinction competition and was recognized as a Certified Project Lead the Way Model School. Additionally, in 2011, ConnectEd and the California Center for Colleges and Universities conducted a rigorous pathway quality review and certified CAMS’s Linked Learning pathway in engineering.
CAMS students have also continued to achieve. In 2009, CAMS students won first place in the statewide engineering and design competition for Mathematics, Engineering, Science Achievement (MESA) and placed second nationally. The CAMS Health Occupations Student Association (HOSA) competed in the statewide competitions in 2011 and 2012 and advanced to the nationals for both years. In 2010, eight students launched an actual 40 foot rocket as part of the Sony Rocket Project and were featured on the Discovery Science Channel as part of a television special. CAMS students won first place in the 2012 Raytheon Engineering competition, "Discovering Your Hidden Capacity." Our robotics and remotely operated underwater vehicle (ROV) teams have also won impressive awards. The CAMS FIRST Robotics team, the “Nerd Herd,” has won the Entrepreneurship Award for the past three years. The VEX robotics teams competed in the World Championship Competitions for 2010, 2011, and 2012. The 2010 CAMS ROV Ranger team placed first in the 10th Annual Southern California Fly Off. In the 2011 Northrop Grumman Innovation Challenge Competition, CAMS students won the Engineering Design Award.
In 2010, CSUDH and CAMS received a $100,000 grant from the American Honda Motor Corporation to offer university science courses to CAMS students in preparation for careers in the science fields. The program, titled the “Science Opportunity Program,” offers students the
ability to earn up to 45 college credits while attending high school. Currently, over 200 CAMS students have participated in this program.
In 2010, CAMS, again in collaboration with CSUDH, received an HP Catalyst Initiative Grant. The CAMS and CSUDH project was one of only 30 from 11 countries to be approved to participate in the HP Catalyst Initiative, a global social innovation program designed to develop more effective approaches to science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) education worldwide. The grant provided technology and equipment totaling $150,000 to be shared between the university and CAMS.
In 2011, the Chevron Products Company awarded CAMS $100,000 to support its biotechnology program. Beginning with the 2011-12 school year, all juniors are required to complete a year of biotechnology, and freshman must complete a yearlong course in health occupations. In fall 2012, CAMS received a $100,000 Garrett A. Morgan Technology and Transportation Federal Grant, which is dedicated to improving the preparation of students, especially women and minorities, in STEM fields with curriculum and activities related to transportation. CAMS was recognized as a 2012 Gold Medal High School by U.S. News and World Report. According to this report, CAMS ranks18 in the state and 111 nationally. CAMS also ranks 76th out of the nation’s top 600 high schools in science and math.
Many factors have contributed to CAMS’s success in preparing such a diverse student body for college. Because CAMS is small, there are only five core teachers in each grade, and all core teachers teach all students in that grade level. The core teachers also work together in grade-level teams to coordinate curriculum and activities, creating a high degree of accountability and helping students understand the links between their studies in different subjects. Students too are required to work in teams, which creates a culture of cooperation, positive peer pressure and accountability.
Equally critical to CAMS’s success in preparing students for college is its location on the CSUDH campus. CAMS juniors and seniors may enroll in university courses, earning transferable college credits. They also become acclimated to a university environment, which demystifies higher education and increases the likelihood of college success. A partnership with El Camino College grants freshmen and sophomores community college credit for the core Introduction to Engineering and Principles of Engineering courses. Students also receive college credit for upper-level engineering electives. On average, CAMS seniors graduate with 22 college units, setting the stage for success in college and beyond.