For 25 local high school freshmen, college starts now.
Brookdale Community College and the Neptune Township School District (NTSD) officially welcomed in the inaugural class of the Poseidon Early College High School (PECHS) during a formal reception at Neptune High School on June 2. The joint program allows first-generation college students the opportunity to earn an associate degree by the time they finish high school.
Brookdale President Dr. Maureen Murphy and a host of area dignitaries and school officials congratulated the students on being accepted into the program, which is one of the first of its kind in the state.
“You are not just a Poseidon student. You are not just a high school student. You are a genuine, bona fide college student,” she said. “You have been accepted into college, and that means that you are part of our Brookdale family. We are so happy to accept you into this program.”
The program, funded through an unprecedented $1 million donation to the Brookdale Community College Foundation from Robert and Joan Rechnitz of Red Bank, provides a cost-free head start for students who are the first in their family to go to college.
Beginning later this summer, the students will take both high school and college courses at Brookdale’s Eastern Monmouth Higher Education Center in Neptune, simultaneously satisfying requirements for their high school diploma and the college’s associate of arts degree in social science. During their senior year they will also take college classes at Brookdale’s campus in Lincroft, mixing in with traditionally enrolled students in college-level classes.
The students were selected from dozens of qualified applicants after a comprehensive application and interview process, ensuring they were prepared for the hard work that lay ahead.
While the students may have to sacrifice some sports and other extracurricular activities throughout the course of the program, NTSD Superintendent David Mooij said he is confident they will all succeed.
“It’s not for everybody,” Mooij said. “But these kids are going to have an opportunity that probably would not have been presented to them otherwise.”
David Rodriguez, one of the students selected for PECHS, has his sights set on becoming a psychologist, a goal he knows will require many years of school and a potentially significant financial investment in tuition.
He and his parents, all from Neptune, were considering options for David’s high school education when PECHS Site Administrator Tara Stephenson visited his school and outlined the benefits of the program. Immediately, David knew he wanted to be a Poseidon student.
“I know I’m dedicated enough, and I have what it takes to get through the program,” he said. “It will shave a few years off of my goal, and for free. I will have both a high school diploma and an associate degree at the age of 18. What’s not to love about that?”
David’s father, Miguel, and mother, Felicita, watched on with pride as he and his 24 fellow students took the first step of a long, demanding journey – one that will end in 2018 with two graduation ceremonies, a high school diploma and an official college degree.
“At 14, just to make the choice to take on this kind of work, it says so much about him already,” Felicita Rodriguez said. “I am so proud of him.”
Stephenson, a first-generation college student herself, said the PECHS program will do more than just cut costs for the students. It will drastically increase their chances of going on to get a four-year degree, she said.
“I am so, so happy for them,” she said. “They will be graduating as a junior in college, which is remarkable. They are prepared, they have the intellect, they have the drive and they have the motivation. There is no doubt in my mind that they will all excel.”
The members of Poseidon’s inaugural class are: Neomi Argant; Reyne Bennet; Ty’Mirrah Brown; Sharmine Cenatus; Maxine Cottrell; Marielle Drake; Star Gaulman; Brandon Gore; Mydeara Harbour; Deborah Jean; Kaiya Jones; Marlee Keirnan; Kaylia Mighty; Carice Plummer; Enrique Rodriguez; Antonio Rodriguez; David Rodriguez; Christine Saint Fleur; Alex Sanchez; Adam Sherman; Herselle Wade; Naima Watson; Csakyeii Williams and Robert Youngberg.
A group of 25 new students will be admitted to the Poseidon program each September, until a capacity of 100 students is reached.
High school classes in the PECHS program will be taught by the teaching staff at Neptune High School. Classes at the college level will be taught by full-time and adjunct Brookdale faculty.
The Poseidon program will also partially fund the renovation of Brookdale’s Neptune-based higher education center, which currently accommodates about 700 area college students. The expansion of the second floor will nearly double the space at the center, opening up opportunities for new courses and programs, according to center Director Charanne Smith.
Click here for more photos of the ceremony.