For two years, the fifth-grader with a flair for conversation has been a student in an all-boys classroom in Brandon, where teachers speak a little louder and encourage bursts of activity.
Classmates stand when responding to questions. They address each other formally, using last names.
Cameron Rodriguez loves it.
“I’m definitely more comfortable,’’ said the 11-year-old A-and-B student, who has a little sister and likes hanging out with girls – just not while he’s trying to learn. “Around girls, you would definitely be more nervous.’’Heading into sixth grade, Cameron doesn’t want the experience to end. So with mom’s help – and with a convenient prompt from a public speaking contest – Cameron began researching his school choice options last semester.
He started with his school district in Hillsborough County, which is home to two single-gender middle schools, one for girls and one for boys.
They boasted of “hundreds of activities’’ at the collegiate middle school, including a golf program and iPads for every student. They showed off uniforms of light blue oxford button down shirts, khaki slacks and striped ties. They said Cameron and the other boys would be called “men of distinction.”
Cameron, who plans to start his own business one day, liked being called a man – a lot.
He went online to the district’s website and found more about the school than even the academy’s lead teacher, Amanda Sheets, said she knew. “Here, the student hasn’t even set foot on the campus, yet, and we’ve already touched him,’’ said Sheets, who oversees tours at the academy.
Cameron channeled his fervor into a speech he delivered for an annual public speaking contest. He wrote about how boys and girls learn differently. How it’s easier to concentrate in class. How he’s not worried about giving the wrong answer.
He practiced reading his speech aloud, over and over.
That diligence earned him a shot at the Nov. 30 schoolwide competition, where Cameron went up against five other fifth-graders. In a room full of judges, teachers, peers and his dad, Cameron walked up to the microphone and gave it his all.
He talked about being himself in an all-boys class, and about how much better single-gender education is – for him.
“In conclusion,’’ Cameron told the crowd, “I feel that you should have an option to attend a classroom where you can learn in a comfortable environment. That comfortable environment, for me, is an all boys’ class.’’
Cameron’s mom, Amy Jo, couldn’t come to the big event due to injuries from an accident. Instead, she watched Cameron on a video her husband, Rick, later posted to YouTube. Her son lost to a classmate, but Cameron still came home a winner.
“You want your kids to love school,’’ Amy Jo said.
Her son’s speech was “purely his passion,’’ she said, to persuade students and parents that there are other options to consider.
Cameron strongly recommends finding the right fit for kids when it comes to classrooms and schools. His parents agree.
“Talk to your kids – it’s about their educational experience,’’ Amy Jo said. “If something is not working, find a different avenue.’’
Cameron and his family got lucky, they said, when Hugo Schmidt decided to experiment with single-gender classrooms within a traditional elementary setting.
“To have the choice truly made an impact on Cameron,’’ Amy Jo said.
She helped Cameron apply to the boys’ academy and eight other schools, including Williams International Baccalaureate Middle Magnet School and another district magnet, Progress Village School of the Arts. They also applied to Terrace Community Middle School, a charter school in the district, but had to pass on private school due to the cost.
Franklin tops the list, though.
Like other students vying for a seat in a district choice school, Cameron’s name will go into a lottery with results expected at the end of the month.
He’s counting on getting his pick. Franklin provides bus transportation, but Cameron will have to rise at 5:30 instead of 6:30 each morning to catch it.
He’s so excited, his mom said, that he’s already setting his alarm an hour earlier.