South Florida

Brag About Lawton Chiles Middle School

Spanish? Check. French? Check. Italian? Very few schools can check that box. Lawton Chiles Middle School is the exception. The eccezione, as they would say in Rome.

"They are learning not just the language but the culture. What is Europe, where is Italy, what is the population in Italy, the customs," explained Italian teacher Rud Abreu, who said she's taking her class on a trip to Italy next year.

"Our school is a hidden treasure," said Principal Nelson Izquierdo.

Tucked away in a neighborhood near I-75, north of Hialeah, Lawton Chiles Middle is a school on the rise. Despite the new, more restrictive state school grading system, LCMS moved up a notch, from a C to a B, one of the few middle schools in South Florida to do so.

Enrollment has also jumped by more than 300 students, which Izquierdo attributes to the school's new Cambridge magnet program. They focus now on an international curriculum and a concept the school calls "blended learning."

"Blended learning is, think about 21st Century, our students today don't necessarily learn the same way that we used to learn, there's a lot of technology involved so we want to infuse and incorporate that technology but still keep that basic, explicit instruction that our teachers are able to give our students in class," Izquierdo said.

Izquierdo also emphasizes a mindset that has become a mantra at the school: educating the whole child. That includes physical fitness, and the students take advantage of a gym comparable to a commercial fitness center.

"A lot of these kids don't have the opportunity to use this equipment so we're working on strengthening the mind as well as strengthening the body here at the school," said physical education teacher Gabriel Cabrera.

Sound mind, sound body. It's an ancient concept, still relevant today, and they're running with it at Lawton Chiles Middle School.

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