For six incoming Raritan High School freshmen, college starts now.
The students – Christine Henry, Ricky Leonard-Sipe, Joshua Nichols, Jason O’Keefe, Noureen Qureshi and Tyler Shaughnessy – form the inaugural cohort of the new Explorer Program-Early College Academy, a partnership between the Hazlet Township School District and Brookdale Community College.
As part of the unique program, the new “explorers” will have the opportunity to earn a Brookdale associate degree by the time they graduate from high school. Beginning this fall, the students will supplement their traditional coursework with college-level courses, completing their first 30 college credits in their freshman and sophomore years.
In their junior year the students will begin studying at Brookdale’s Northern Monmouth Higher Education Center in Hazlet, before completing their senior year as full-time college students on the college’s flagship campus in Lincroft. If successful, the students will graduate high school ready to begin their junior year of college.
On Aug. 29 the students and their parents joined school district officials for a pre-semester orientation program, taking a tour of the college’s Lincroft and Hazlet campuses, meeting with Brookdale President Dr. Maureen Murphy, speaking with Explorer program administrators and taking photos for their official college IDs.
“It’s a little weird, because you’re starting high school and college at the same time. It’s a lot to take in,” said student Tyler Shaughnessy, an aspiring engineering major. “But it’s an opportunity – a good opportunity – and I want to take advantage of it. It will be a lot of work, but I’m willing to try.”
For the Explorer students, that work has already begun. This summer the class completed an advanced placement course in geometry to prepare for the coming school year, when they will begin leading dual lives as high school and college freshmen. Throughout the next four years, the students will be tasked with earning 60 general education college credits on their way to an associate degree in social science. The degree, according to school officials, is designed to be applicable to most majors at potential transfer schools.
“It’s not going to be easy,” said Raritan High School Principal Andrew Piotrowski, during the orientation program on Aug. 29. “As you have learned this summer, college is self-guided. You have to be driven within yourself to make sure you get your work done every day. You don’t want to be cramming at the last minute to get things done. I learned these skills when I entered college. You have the opportunity now, as freshmen in high school, to learn these very valuable skills.”
Those sentiments were echoed by Murphy, who encouraged the students to take advantage of the support services, tutors and dedicated advisors that will be available to them throughout the program.
“You might be 13 or 14 years old, but you are college students,” said Murphy. “You and your fellow students are the only ones who will know what it’s like to be part of this program. I encourage you to work together and support each other, and to reach out and ask for help. College courses move fast – a lot faster than high school courses do. Sometimes you need somebody there just to talk you through it, and that’s what we’re here for.”
In addition to an academic head-start, the Explorer program offers a significant cost break for students – and parents – looking ahead to four or more years of college tuition.
“It’s a very rare opportunity,” said Robert Shaughnessy, Tyler’s father. “To graduate and go right into your junior year of college, I never had that chance. It’s amazing.”
The students completed their orientation program at a meeting of the Hazlet Township Board of Education, where they were recognized by Superintendent Bernard Bragen, Jr. and Brookdale Vice President for Learning Dr. Matthew Reed. The students also received official certificates of recognition, a Brookdale backpack and a cache of school supplies and other goodies.
“These are explorers,” said Bragen, explaining that the program was named after the Explorer 1, the first satellite ever sent into space by the United States. “They are the first of our students to take that challenge. Years from now, people are going to look back at these six students and what they accomplished in starting this program… I am proud that they have taken the initiative, taken that step forward, and challenged themselves beyond their expectations and their perceived limitations.”
The Explorer program is projected to grow in the coming school years, reaching a total enrollment of approximately 25 students.
“It’s an opportunity to get ahead in school, and to get ahead in life. The sky is the limit for these students,” said school district assistant superintendent Joseph Annibale. “We’re in uncharted waters, but we have put a lot of hard work into this. And I feel that we’re on the cusp of something really exciting.”
The Explorer Program is the latest in a series of early college partnerships rolled out by Brookdale in recent years, including the Poseidon Early College High School program in Neptune and the Early College Academy at Saint John Vianney High School in Holmdel, which welcomed their first classes in 2014. The Asbury Park Dream Academy Early College Program, announced this summer, will also open this fall.
Check out more photos from the Explorer orientation program here.