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year, that’s okay. I’m
doing something for
myself. I want to get
my associate’s degree.”
The group of Excel
students is attending
high school as usual
in the morning for
the next two years
and making their
first forays into
higher education in
the afternoon. They
enter the community
college as a cohort
and register for the
same core classes. Last
fall, for example, they
took English 099, a
prep course for the
community college
writing exam, and
theater arts.
These are regular
sections of community
college courses
taught by community
college instructors.
High school and
college students are
intermingled. “Having
college students in
the same classroom is
important,” said Bert
Rosenberg, principal of International High. “Our students’
attitude and behavior is more mature when they are mixed
in.”
High school guidance counselors offer an additional
seminar class to help students adjust to college. The seminar
provides extra time to discuss work in the college classes,
as well as a chance to talk about the differences between
community college and high school. Not until their final year,
when students design an individual program leading to an
associate’s degree, do they attend classes alone in the general
population of the community college. But even then, the
support services provided by the high school remain in place.
“Some students may be used to an environment that
offers them second chances to get their work done,” said
David Grodsky, a social studies teacher at Middle College
who is mentoring Excel students. “One of the biggest
hurdles they face is dealing with new expectations. The
college environment assumes you are an adult. There are
consequences if you don’t meet your deadlines.”
Each student in the Excel program took LaGuardia’s
college reading course over the summer to prepare them
for community college classes. All but three passed the test.
Rosenberg and Aaron Listhaus, principal at Middle College
High, are optimistic about these students’ chances when
they retake the test this semester. But repeated failures would
create a problemwith the cohort structure of the class. Either
students will drop back a year, or they may have to leave the
program, Rosenberg said.
Faced with the social reality of attending class with people
who are no longer teenagers, Excel students discover a new
motivation: pride. Few want to be identified as high school
students by the community college. “The kids want to start
out viewed as regular college students,” said Grodsky. “So the
assumption is not that you are younger or ‘not as good’ as the
others. Let the professors be pleasantly surprised.”
A liberal arts public school
Across the East River inManhattan, an early college with
roots in a different tradition of higher education effects a
more abrupt transition to higher education. At Bard High
School Early College, near the East Village, high school as we
know it ends after tenth grade. At this year-old public school,
which moved from temporary quarters in Brooklyn last fall,
11th graders are not juniors, ready to concentrate on the
college admissions process. They are known as “year-ones.”
Instead of lecture classes, they take mostly seminar-style
courses with sixteen or fewer students. They plunge into
calculus, art history, comparative literature and law, working
with faculty who were teaching at colleges before they came
to Bard.
As at Middle College and International High, graduates
receive not only a high school diploma, but also an associate’s
degree, which enables them to enter a typical four-year
college as juniors. Unlike those schools, Bard is a four-year
program, with the final two years of full-time college courses
leading to an associate’s degree.
Bard, whose 500 students are housed in a former
elementary school, was launched as a cooperative project
between Bard College, a liberal arts school in Annandale-
on-Hudson, New York, and the New York City Board of
Education. The Bill &Melinda Gates Foundation provided
nearly $1 million in
startup funding.
The urban high
school might not
exist today if Leon
Botstein, the president
of Bard College had not
pushed to buy Simon’s
Rock Early College
in Great Barrington,
Massachusetts, in 1979.
But in contrast to
Simon’s Rock, an idyllic
retreat where gifted 15-
and 16-year-old students
begin a four-year liberal
arts program, the New
York City school aims
not to supplant the later high school years but to transform
them. Instead of recruiting students who can do college
work now, the faculty seeks to groom an ethnically diverse
crop of ninth graders, not all of whom come from the top of
their middle school classes, into young college students. And
Cecelia Cunningham, former principal at an early college
on the LaGuardia Community College campus in Queens,
N.Y., now heads a consortium of such schools.
The Bill & Melinda
Gates Foundation,
one of the early
funders of Bard High
School Early College,
has donated $40
million to launch 70
new early college
high schools.
Lisa Quiñones, Black Star, for CrossTalk