New program offers tough work, and some college credits, for high school students

Kingsway Regional Middle School's Matt Blaszcz will be partof the district's first group to enter S.T.E.M.
Kingsway Regional Middle School's Matt Blaszcz will be partof the district's first group to enter S.T.E.M. (CLEM MURRAY / Staff)
Posted: July 10, 2012

Not long before her eighth-grade graduation, Devon Grippe received a letter preparing her for a tougher-than-normal high school class load: four years of rigorous classes with lots of homework.

That note went right up on the refrigerator door, like an award.

"I was so excited," the Woolwich teenager said.

Grippe, 14, is among 20 students selected for the first cohort in Kingsway Regional High School's new S.T.E.M. Academy, a partnership with Gloucester County College meant to give its participants advanced preparation for college and careers geared toward science, technology, engineering, and math. It also earns them actual college credits.

None less than President Obama has stressed the nation's need for more professionals in the S.T.E.M. areas. Around the nation, community colleges have embarked on various initiatives to encourage interest in S.T.E.M. by reaching out to students well before they reach college.

"S.T.E.M. career projections reflect significant growth over the next decade, and we, as a nation, are falling behind in providing a properly educated/trained workforce," said Barbara Turner, dean of GCC's S.T.E.M. division.

The Kingsway students eventually will choose between focusing on biology or chemistry.

In a similar partnership with GCC also starting this September, 24 students at the Gloucester County Institute of Technology (GCIT) will be the first participants in the school's new Academy of Engineering and will earn at least 30 college credits by the time they graduate. GCIT already has three academies - allied health and medical sciences, finances and business management, and information technology - in which students are required to earn at least 30 college credits.

This partnership will be Kingsway's first foray into the academy approach. District Superintendent James Lavender said the goal isn't to encourage students to settle on a career now but rather to expand academic preparation and expose them to options.

" Opportunity is the key word," he said.

GCC and many other community colleges have programs that permit high school students to take courses for dual credit, but the academy concept goes a step further.

In their freshman and sophomore years, the Kingsway students will take the school's most rigorous courses, including some advanced-placement classes in sophomore year, according to Jennifer Foley-Hindman, the district's supervisor of curriculum and instruction.

"In junior year, it's APs out the wazoo," she said.

Their senior year, they will take courses at GCC. Ultimately, Foley-Hindman said, they could graduate with as many as 32 college credits.

In the future, she said, Kingsway would like to expand the program to allow for concentrations in other S.T.E.M. subjects beyond biology and chemistry.

Kingsway's initial 20 students tend to be a math- and science-loving crew selected for their interest in the program, their proven academic abilities and their standardized test scores.

Matt Blaszcz, 13, of Woolwich, said he's not daunted by the work ahead.

"I like more of a challenge," he said.

A Legos fan, Blaszcz said he was particularly interested in math and engineering.

"I like to build things," he said.

Lindsay Miller, 14, of East Greenwich said she might go for a math career. She is into Sudoku and likes playing with her Rubik's Cube. She knows many S.T.E.M. professions are dominated by men, but that won't keep her away.

"I like that," she said. "It feels good to be a girl in a guy's field."

That won't bother Devon Grippe either, she said. Playing softball - she's a pitcher - and doing math are among Grippe's passions. She is hoping to do plenty of both in high school.

"I was always the math person in my family," Grippe said. "They would always come to me to figure the tip in restaurants."

She is looking forward to being able to earn college credits while still in high school, she said. They might just come in handy for the aspiring anesthesiologist.

Contact Rita Giordano at 856-779-3841, or on Twitter @ritagiordano.

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