Jeffrey Maher

Jeffrey Maher

St. Mary’s public school system and the College of Southern Maryland want to offer potential first-generation college students the ability to receive their high school diploma and associate’s degree at the same time.

Jeff Maher, the school system’s chief strategic officer, and Eileen Abel, CSM’s vice president of academic affairs, presented “an idea that’s been percolating for a decade now,” Maher said at a school board meeting on Wednesday.

“This has been on my mind for years … and finally we see it,” board member Mary Washington said.

Cathy Allen, vice chair of the school board, said it’s also been on her mind ever since she saw a presentation about it from another district at a national school board conference about 10 years ago.

Abel said working with first-generation students gives them the ability to impact the entire family. The goal is to accept students who made the choice to join themselves and not because their parents told them.

“The key is getting students who are academically motivated,” Abel said. “And I say motivated, not prepared.”

Some students have obtained their college degree and high school diploma at the same time before, but the school system and community college want to make the process more structured. Maher said students in the Early College/Dual Enrollment Pathway program will take fewer classes, but still meet the credit requirement. He said each class will be about an hour and 20 minutes.

During the 2021-2022 school year, they will select 25 kids, or eight or nine students from each high school, for the program. The freshmen would take graduation-required high school classes like English, geometry, U.S. history and earth and space science in the morning, jump on the bus that takes students to the Dr. James A. Forrest Career and Technology Center, arrive at CSM to take classes like college-level music and Spanish, and return back to campus for electives on Mondays through Thursdays. The coursework will align with CSM’s general studies major.

“It’s designed to be a transfer pathway and not an employment pathway,” Abel said.

The sophomore year would look similar and with each year the high schooler spends more time at CSM. A Friday seminar class will be provided for the cohort to discuss college success strategies and offer tutoring.

“I know Dr. [Maureen] Murphy is excited about this. She talked to me about it several times,” Karin Bailey, chair of the school board, said about CSM’s president.

“We still have some planning to do for criteria for selection,” Maher said. He added they plan to talk to “current seventh-graders who may be perfect applicants” for the first cohort.

This school year, they plan to implement a formal agreement with CSM, establish criteria and courses and identify challenges. In 2020-2021, the plan is to publicize the criteria, promote parent-student communication and add the coursework to the school system’s program of studies. The following year is when they plan to put it in action.

Abel said the timeline gives them room to “work out some of the bugs.”

Allen said some of the elements for the program are already in place, and she suspects the cost to implement it would be minor. She requested Abel and Maher return to the school board after they work out all of the challenges.

Twitter: @KristenEntNews

Twitter: @KristenEntNews