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Worcester High School Students Offer Their Insights on the Early College Program

October, 2018
  • Officials at Early College roundtable discussion.
    From left: Massachusetts Commissioner of Higher Carlos Santiago, QCC President Luis Pedraja, Senator Michael Moore, WSU President Barry Maloney and Superintendent of Worcester Public Schools Maureen Binienda
  • Worcester high school students discuss the Early College program.
    From left: Worcester Technical High School junior Besma Nurhussien, Doherty Memorial High School junior Kwaku Nyarko and Worcester Technical High School senior Zachary Le
  • Participants in the Early College Roundtable discussion.
    From left: WSU President Barry Maloney; mentor Carla Corley, Superintendent of Worcester Public Schools Maureen Binienda, student Zachary Le, student Besma Nurhussien, student Kwaku Nyarko, QCC President Luis Pedraja and Senator Michael Moore.

Three Worcester area high school students discussed the state’s early college program in a no-holds barred roundtable discussion with state and local officials at Quinsigamond Community College (QCC) on October 9. Senator Michael O. Moore, Massachusetts Commissioner of Higher Carlos E. Santiago, QCC President Luis G. Pedraja, Worcester State University (WSU) President Barry M. Maloney, and Superintendent of Worcester Public Schools Maureen F. Binienda discussed the new early college program with three students, who are all part of Worcester’s early college pilot program.

“I see this program as a philosophy of change where every student has access to college,” Senator Moore said. “In fifteen to 20 years we’ll look back and see that Worcester started and changed our education system.”

The Early College Program, a collaborative effort with QCC, WSU and the WPS is designed to establish college pathways for high school students in all seven Worcester high schools. It offers high school students the opportunity to earn college credits while still in high school, with a myriad of wraparound services available to them. The program focuses on underrepresented, under-served and first generation-to-college students. The Worcester Early College Program is one of four early college programs statewide that received part of $420,000 in implementation grant funding in July 2018. Senator Moore noted that by the year 2020, 70 percent of jobs will require some sort of college or certificate, making programs such as these so vital.

President Pedraja said he hopes to see a clear pathway that goes through the entire education system, adding that if we do not create this pathway there is going to be a gap in the workforce.

“This is a very unique partnership in the state to create pathways for students to be able to succeed and enter into college with less debt,” President Pedraja said. “I tell students at QCC, ‘you belong here.’ We need to start creating a college mindset with everyone. I think that’s going to be critical and we can grow this program through multiple partnerships.”

All of the students at the roundtable discussion are currently enrolled in a First Year Experience class at QCC. Each of the students told officials of their initial fear and misconception with taking college courses.

“I thought it would be a lot scarier, but it is a lot better than I thought it would be. The professors understand we are high school students and are very accommodating,” said Doherty Memorial High School junior Kwaku Nyarko. “When I actually do start college I’m going to have a head start. I’m not going to flop or have that freshman misstep because I’m already acclimated to what it’s like there.”

The students said one of the key factors of the program was the wrap-around support services they received.

“They provide us with transportation, advisors and mentors to help us be in the program,” said Worcester Technical High School junior Besma Nurhussien.

“The transportation is the best. I couldn’t come here otherwise,” added Worcester Technical High School senior Zachary Le.

At QCC, mentoring plays a very beneficial role in the program. This year the college has expanded its existing mentoring program to include more community mentors, increasing its mentor base for students. This provides a way for QCC students to connect with mentors and build positive relationships that support their college experience.

“Every step of the way they are guiding us so we can focus on the college experience. The mentors are amazing. Everyone wants to see all of us succeed,” Mr. Nyarko said.

Currently there are 120 spots for students in the Early College Program with the goal to increase the number of students in the coming years. WSU President Maloney asked the students how they thought they could increase student interest the program. The resounding answer from the students was more class variety. Mr. Nyarko said that adding more classes will enable students to explore diverse pathway options so they can get a better idea and understanding of what they want to do, without spending thousands.

Senator Moore said the best way for this program to be successful is for the students who are in the pilot program to help promote it.

“We’re looking to you to be the role models and get the word out,” Commissioner Santiago added. “This partnership is really remarkable and just what we need in higher education.”

Families who are interested in learning more about the program should contact Dr. Mary E. Meade-Montaque, WPS Manager for Instruction & School Leadership at MontaqueM [at] worc.k12.ma.us

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