Smart Scholars Program Provides College Head Start for SCSD High Schoolers

     Published on 7/13/16   Tagged under:    District News    Academics    ITC    Nottingham High School   

SCSD students at Nottingham and ITC are provided with early exposure to college, thanks to the Smart Scholars Early College High School program. Grant funded through the New York State Education Department, the program partners the high schools with institutions of higher education to create opportunities for students to gain valuable college experience while in high school.
 
At Nottingham, the program, now in its fifth year, is structured with the goal of exposing as many students as possible to higher education. As early as freshman year, students are able to visit college campuses on field trips—and by graduation, all students in the program are encouraged to have taken at least one college class. While first choice at enrollment is offered to students in a particular ‘academy,’ if a college course has spots available, enrollment is expanded to other students in the building.
 
Over the summer, ninth and tenth graders have the option to attend a week-long summer camp at SUNY-ESF, where they explore area parks to investigate the water, examine the makeup of the land and work on geological mapping. Upperclassmen can attend camp at Syracuse University, where they travel to campus and take class with professors there.
 
Thanks to the grant, Nottingham teachers have been trained in teaching college courses, which has allowed the school to add three SUNY-ESF courses, 2 Onondaga Community College courses and three SUPA classes—taught by the teachers acting as adjunct professors. Some of the courses are offered after school for accelerated ninth and tenth graders, and tutoring is available after school for students who are interested.
 
“Our goal is to try to lift up our students and give them opportunities they may not otherwise have, to help them become college ready,” Vice Principal Lynanne De Tore explained. “The Smart Scholars program helps expose students to college, gives them the opportunity to try a college class and helps them make that connection of ‘why do I need to learn this?’”
 
Ms. De Tore noted the added support that students and teachers receive from college professors, who will visit the school to teach a class or video stream a lecture.
 
“The exposure to and exploration of things outside our school building through this program is great,” Ms. De Tore added. “The community becomes the classroom.”
 
In its fourth year at ITC, the Smart Scholars program is structured differently but offers the same result: it provides students with the most realistic college experience they can get as high schoolers. At ITC, students enroll in classes at OCC, get themselves to campus and actually take the courses in person, alongside college students.
 
“Our kids are getting A’s and B’s in college courses, and they’re not college kids yet,” ITC Smart Scholars coordinator Bob Piraino said. “And they do it all themselves. They are good kids—they’re engaged, and they want to be college educated.”
 
Through Smart Scholars, 23 ITC seniors took a total of about 89 OCC courses in the 2015-16 school year. Program advisors are selective in which students get to enroll. In the spring of junior year, students have the opportunity to submit an application—complete with essay—to be considered for the program. They then take part in an interview, and their attendance and report card are reviewed. The next step is taking the OCC ACCUPLACER exam that tests their math and English level, and then the enrollees are selected.
 
Counselor Natasha Santiago advises students about which classes they might want to take at OCC. She said that the opportunity for students to be on campus and treated as college students is the highlight of the Smart Scholars program.
 
“All the AP and college credit courses we offer here at the high school are great, but there is no better preparation for college than actually being there,” she said. “Plus, for some students, the OCC courses actually give them the advantage they need to get into four year schools. It gives admissions offices more of a glimpse into their academic ability than just the SAT scores would.”
 
In August, prior to the start of their senior year, Smart Scholars take part in a week-long orientation at ITC in August, led by Social Studies teacher Kathleen Argus, which concludes with an OCC tour. The Smart Scholars program gives students access to everything OCC students would have access to: the YMCA, student clubs and organizations, tutoring, the campus library and more. Perhaps most impressive, it includes tuition, books and bus passes.
 
The program, funded through a grant, also offers field project opportunities for students as early as freshman year that bring them to OCC and SUNY-ESF.
 
“Starting in 9th grade, our kids are on college campuses,” Principal Donna Formica said. “It’s so important for our students to have these experiences. They’re learning college skills like the punctuality, the importance of asking about office hours, reaching out to the professors if you will be absent… it makes them more responsible for their own learning.”
 
ITC senior Anthony Stachnik has earned about 25 college credits, which will give him a boost as he attends the University at Albany to study political science next year.
 
“My favorite course at OCC was American National Politics,” he explained. “I want to be a political scientist, so it taught me a lot of good information that I’ll need to know. I was able to join the politics club on campus, too, which was nice. And at college, we have the liberty to do our work at our own pace. It was nice to have that responsibility on our shoulders.”
 
Classmate Patrick Marsch has earned about 20 college credits through the Smart Scholars program. He said that many, like calculus, will help set him ahead as he studies chemical engineering at Syracuse University.
 
“It was a lot freer than it is here at ITC,” he explained. “It was actually stress relieving to be able to leave campus and do our own thing. For all the going on field trips and clubs that ITC offers, taking the classes at OCC is the most intricate, best decision I’ve made. And it’s less work for me to do later at college!”
 
OCC Early College High School Coordinator Joshua Martin, himself a SCSD graduate, said that the program has been a good experience on the college’s end as well. “I have received numerous comments from instructors about how pleased they are with some of the Smart Scholars students in their classes based on participation and the work they’re doing in the overall scope of the course,” he said. “We’re seeing the progress in those students going to class, doing the work, meeting and exceeding the expectations of the instructors. Really, through the Smart Scholars program, we are putting more students in a position to be successful.”
 
Congratulations to all of our hard-working students who have taken college courses through Smart Scholars. We know you will continue #makinggreathappen!