While many incoming high school freshmen are buying school supplies, shopping for new clothes, and gearing up for the coming school year, 36 students from the Hazlet Township School District are getting ready for college.
The students, all incoming Raritan High School freshmen from Hazlet and Union Beach, are the newest members of the Explorer Early College Academy, a unique partnership that allows eligible students to earn a Brookdale Community College associate degree by the time they graduate from high school.
Beginning this fall, the students will augment their curriculum by taking a series of college-level courses, completing their first 30 college credits in their freshman and sophomore years.
In their junior year the students will study at Brookdale’s Northern Monmouth Higher Education Center in Hazlet, before transferring to Brookdale’s main campus in Lincroft to complete their senior year. If successful, the students will graduate high school ready to begin their junior year of college.
The new “explorers” and their parents were invited to visit Brookdale’s campuses in Lincroft and Hazlet on Aug. 28 for a pre-semester orientation program, where they were able to tour campus facilities, speak with a variety of school representatives, register for courses and apply for their official college IDs.
“I’m so excited,” said student Vincent Camarda, of Union Beach. “I’m excited about even just the idea of it. Like, I’m going to be a college student and I’m going to be coming out of high school with a college degree. It’s such an amazing opportunity.”
In Lincroft the students were welcomed by a wide range of college and school district representatives, including David Stout, interim Brookdale president; Matthew Reed, vice president for learning; Joseph Annibale, assistant Hazlet Township School District superintendent; and Andrew Piotrowski, Raritan High School principal.
“Last year we only had six students in our inaugural class,” said Annibale. “Here we are looking at 36 students who are going to embark on a journey that’s going to be very challenging, but very rewarding at the same time. You boys and girls are setting the standard for the Hazlet Township School District and for Brookdale. I wish you the best of luck, and a great start to a successful year.”
In his welcome address, Stout encouraged the students to take a moment and appreciate the rarity of the opportunity in front of them.
“By earning a college degree before graduating from high school, you will be achieving something that less than 1 percent of the world’s population has been able to do,” said Stout.
“This is how special you are. You have been admitted into a program that virtually no one in the world is admitted into. I want to congratulate you for that, and also promise that we will employ all of our resources in order to help you be successful. So congratulations, and I’ll see you soon.”
Other speakers stressed the benefits of the program, which include both an academic head-start and significant savings on college tuition. While the coursework may be demanding, Reed said the academy prepares students to transfer to any university in the country.
“By succeeding in this program, you will be proving to colleges that you have what it takes to succeed as a college student,” said Reed. “When you apply, your record will speak for itself. Universities will be searching for you… All you have to do is keep going. There will be times when it will be hard, no question. But it will be worth it, I assure you.”
Also in attendance were Anita Voogt, Brookdale’s executive dean of regional sites and partnerships; Franklyn Rother, dean of K-12 partnerships; Bruce Marich, director of the Hazlet Higher Education Center; Cara Novak, K-12 partnerships administrator; and Jessica Rigassio, counselor for the Hazlet Township School District.
The students completed their orientation program on Aug. 28 by attending a meeting of the Hazlet Township Board of Education, where they were presented with official certificates of recognition.
The Explorer Early College Academy is one of seven early-college programs offered in partnership with Brookdale, including similar programs in Asbury Park, Keyport, Middletown, Neptune, Wall Township and at St. John Vianney High School in Holmdel.
Check out more photos from the pre-semester orientation program here.