Innovative program allows Oxford students to earn college credits while still in high school
● By Steven Hoffman
Fourteen-year-old Jaclyn Peabody was very excited when she found out that she was accepted to be a part of the Early College Academy when she enters the ninth grade at Oxford Area High School in the fall. She was so excited, in fact, that she immediately texted the news to her older brother, JC, who serves in the U.S. military and is stationed in Okinawa.
Jaclyn's reaction left a lasting impression on her mother, Chrissy Peabody.
“The excitement that I saw made me very proud as a mother,” explained Chrissy Peabody. “I was proud to be an Oxford parent. This is a great opportunity that Oxford is providing to our students.”
The Early College Academy is a collaboration between the Oxford Area School District and Cecil College that provides students with the opportunity to earn college credits as they progress through high school. Students like Jaclyn can potentially earn an associate's degree by the time they walk across the stage for their high school graduation.
The first participants in the Early College Academy started in September of 2014 and just recently finished the first year of work. Officials from Oxford and Cecil College are pleased with the results so far.
“Our first year of the Early College Academy went very well,” said Dr. Diane Lane, vice president of student services and institutional effectiveness at Cecil College. “Most important, all of the students were academically successful. They have been amazing, and we are extremely proud of what they have already accomplished.”
During the students' freshman and sophomore years at Oxford, they take the college coursework online, with teachers from the high school and college available to assist the students with their work. Ninth-graders take health, fitness, and career development classes through Cecil College, while they focus on core subjects like English, math, social studies, and science at the high school. In tenth grade, students add courses in computer science, a foreign language, public speaking, and the humanities at Cecil College. Students also take academic seminars like College 101, Time Management, Study Habits & Strategies, Writing Competencies, and more. The curriculum is designed to get progressively more rigorous, and when students are in their junior and senior years, they take their classes on site at Cecil College. Students can take college courses related to specific areas, such as business, math, or engineering, and those who complete all the coursework will be awarded a Cecil College general studies degree when they graduate from high school.
On average, an associate's degree is 60 credits. The total cost for tuition for students who are enrolled in the Early College Academy is significantly less than what it would cost for students to earn those credits later on at a four-year university.
“It's an amazing partnership,” said Oxford Area High School principal Christopher Dormer, explaining that students benefit from being challenged academically with the college coursework.
The Early College Academy evolved out of conversations between Oxford and Cecil College about dual enrollment. Administrators from Oxford wanted a broader program that would allow students to graduate with an associate's degree.
Chrissy Peabody said that Oxford Area School District administrators, particularly superintendent David Woods, deserves credit for bringing this educational opportunity to Oxford students.
“This really came about because of Mr. Woods,” Peabody said. “When it comes to opportunities for Oxford students, he really doesn't know the word 'can't.' This is really a wonderful opportunity for our students.”
She added that Dormer and the staff at the high school have been very good at facilitating the program by incorporating the college coursework into the students' schedules, and by making classrooms and technology available to the students.
Students in the Early College Academy have full access to Cecil College's library, tutoring services, and computer labs, as well as many other college resources, and they are guided through the coursework with the help of tutors, mentors, and advisors from the Oxford and Cecil College staff.
Peabody said that, with the rising tuition costs at college, a program like this one will be beneficial for more and more students.
Seventeen students completed the first cohort, and are moving on to the second year of the program. Another 22 eighth-graders are expected to enroll in the program for the first cohort for their freshman year in 2015-2016.
“There's growing excitement with this program,” Dormer said.
As a rising ninth-grader, Jaclyn Peabody still has plenty of time to decide on a career. Chrissy Peabody said that her daughter has expressed interest in studying cosmetology, and the opportunity to take college-level courses not only enhances her education and challenges her academically, it also prepares her better for life after high school.
Dormer pointed out that a student who wants to pursue cosmetology might also want to take business classes to help with that aspect of the field.
Officials from Oxford and Cecil College are enthusiastic about the early results, and are looking forward to the future of the program.
“The Oxford Area School District has been a highly active and engaged partner in this initiative,” explained Lane. “The success that we have seen has been the result of the shared commitment Cecil and Oxford have made to continuously support these students throughout their enrollment.”
Students interested in the program will attend an Early College Academy Orientation day on Aug. 19.
Dormer said that the program offers a major advantage in that it gets students to think about potential paths to a career.
“It's amazing that these students are not even in high school yet, and they are already thinking about life after high school,” Dormer said.