Ten years ago, seniors at Wootton High School were facing what Becky Newman-Paul, the school’s principal at the time, called “senior slump.”
With graduation around the corner, students were more focused on having a good time than on school, said Newman-Paul, who is now retired.
Knowing that the students needed something more, Newman-Paul and others from Montgomery County Public Schools started to talk to Montgomery College staff to bring professors to her school each semester to teach her students college courses for college credit.
“It was based on the idea that we have to make high school more interesting for that fourth year,” Newman-Paul said.
In 2002, the first year of the program, 93 Wootton students participated. This year, 400 juniors and seniors countywide are taking 650 college courses at 22 high schools as part of the program, now known as the Concurrent Enrollment Program.
The program allows students to earn college credits by attending a college course offered at their school or at a nearby building with fellow students at their school.
For ten years now, the program has given high school students a jumpstart to college and an early advantage, said Genevieve Floyd, supervisor of career and postsecondary partnerships for MCPS.
Founders and supporters celebrated the program’s 10th anniversary at Montgomery College’s Germantown campus on Wednesday.
Newman-Paul said it is the students who allowed the program to succeed. At first, teachers at Wootton didn’t think it was a good idea, she said. They thought the offerings would conflict with their AP classes.
“We believed in [the students] and they made it work,” she said. “That is really my belief about why we are here today. … It was the kids that did this.”
Halley Henry, a Seneca Valley High School graduate, said Thursday she doesn’t know where she would be without the program. Henry was halfway to her associate’s degree when she graduated in May, without leaving her school.
With 35 college credits, Henry said she had a true understanding of the rigor of college courses. After starting Montgomery College this fall, she expects to leave this spring, associate’s degree in hand.
“You guys totally helped me out a whole lot,” she told program staff on Thursday.
The concurrent enrollment program is different from early placement, which allows high school students to enroll in Montgomery College courses offered at the college.
“It is better for students’ schedules, and it is a more supportive environment,” said Akima Rogers, the program’s manager at Montgomery College. “How often does a student walk into a college classroom and know all of the students in the room?”
The goal is to eventually offer at least one college course in every high school, Floyd said.
Some of the challenges in getting the program in all schools is the infrastructure of the schools themselves — the college staff member needs a classroom to teach in — as well as the priorities of the schools, Rogers said.
“Some of the schools have said we have too much going on here,” Rogers said.
The three high schools that don’t participate now are Bethesda-Chevy Chase, Richard Montgomery and Clarksburg.
Other schools vary in their participation, some offering one class, others offering several. Each student must pay regular tuition for each class; for a three-credit course, tuition is $445.20. Financial aid is offered to some students who need it, Floyd said.
Course offerings differ depending on the high school. Fifty-three courses are offered countywide, including introduction courses such as Intro to Nutrition and elective courses such as Evolution of Economic Societies. The courses are offered during the school day for the most part, although some offer a course after school and Springbrook High students can take a summer school course, Rogers said. Juniors must have a 3.0 GPA to enroll; seniors must have a 2.75 GPA.
The program costs Montgomery College about $500,000 a year, including salaries and operational costs, Rogers said. Montgomery County Public Schools pays for seven full-time staff members to facilitate the program at schools where many students take the courses, and pays a $18,000 a year stipend to 15 school staff who facilitate the program at other schools, Floyd said.
Professors and adjunct staff who teach high school students and who were at the celebration Wednesday swear by the program. They say the courses are much more rigorous than AP and IB courses, and they excite seniors about their learning.
Ruth Hempel, a Montgomery College professor who has taught Speech 108 at Gaithersburg, Seneca Valley and Sherwood, said she loves the blend of teaching college and high school at the same time.
She said she likes preparing them for a college course load, while getting to hear about the events that mark their high school experience.
“In the fall, I get to hear about homecoming, and talk to them about their college applications,” she said. “It is so exciting.”