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Mt. Everett’s Early College program celebrates its students and awards more faculty pioneering certifications

A handful of students shared their Early College experiences at a panel convened with representatives from Massachusetts’ Department of Elementary and Secondary Education on March 28.

Sheffield and Great Barrington — Leah Ruane, an 11th grader at Mount Everett Regional High School, knew she wanted to go into nursing. But after taking a college psychology course she really liked through Mount Everett’s Early College program, a partnership with Bard College at Simon’s Rock, she also wants to become a pediatric psychiatrist. Sitting through the lecture-style class took some adjustment, but she believes it was “beneficial to be able to take it during school hours and have it count toward college.” She is also taking a medical terminology class online at Berkshire Community College, where she plans to transfer for the nursing program, along with working at Berkshire Medical Center and going to school for psychology.

Leah is also taking a college forensic science class, which includes weekly trips to Simon’s Rock for the lab, as is Paul Harden. A hockey player and former competitive figure skater, the 12th grader is a self-described jack of all trades. After his freshman year, he was homeschooled and was missing some credits when he returned. An economics Early College course not only allowed him to explore new career opportunities, but helped him build a business as a skate technician. He sells hockey equipment online as a side gig. He says the program helped him get credits he needed to graduate on time, “and that’ll benefit me a lot with my business,” he shared.

A handful of students shared their Early College experiences at a panel convened with representatives from Massachusetts’ Department of Elementary and Secondary Education on March 28. At the ensuing assembly, all of the 40-plus students who had taken at least one college class were called up on stage and given some swag to celebrate.

Lindy Marcel, Mt. Everett’s Early College internship coordinator, advises students regarding how to fit these college courses, which are free to them, into their schedule. Noting that most students at the school work on top of classes and internships, she added, “Paul’s doing a fantastic job of managing everything he has going on for himself,” which caused his fellow students to burst into laughter.

“In some ways,” Marcel continued, “it’s more difficult to be on a regimented high school schedule and taking college classes than fully in college.” Plus, students are also taking their required high school courses.

Paul, who wants to go into a business field, has three or four hours of homework a day. “Is it doable? Yes. Do I enjoy it? No, but with my goal in mind, I’d say it’s worth it.”

Pan Chea, an international exchange student from Cambodia who spent the previous year in Texas, called the Early College program a “pleasant surprise.” (She also said that here, in contrast to the Texas school’s approach to classes, “You have to think.”) Though she claimed English was not her strongest suit, she especially loved “Writing in the Humanities” with Mr. Wolgemuth. Not limited to a single writing structure, she found herself “probing her thoughts” and relating academics to real life. “They go hand in hand, and I’d never experienced that before.” She knew she wanted to go into law and help people, but Early College provided the freedom to explore herself and express it on paper.

From left: Southern Berkshire Regional School District Superintendent Dr. Beth Regulbuto; Early College-certified Mt. Everett faculty Neil Barbieri (high school math), Asha Von Ruden (middle school science), Kari Giordano (art), and John Hamill (middle school social studies); Simon’s Rock provost John Weinstein; and Mt. Everett Principal Jesse Carpenter. Photo by Kateri Kosek.

Last year, Kevin Wolgemuth became the first Mt. Everett teacher certified to teach Early College classes. At last month’s assembly, John Weinstein, provost at Simon’s Rock, announced four other teachers receiving the additional certification. Weinstein was “very excited” to have teachers of this “pioneering district” be the first to participate in the certification, started through the Early College Research Institute at Simon’s Rock. “What’s made this partnership so smooth,” he declared to the pepped-up crowd, “is the teachers here are amazing, and a lot of the teaching practices they’re already doing are aligned with Early College pedagogy, so this has been affirming what great teaching looks like, not having to change it.”

Enabling Early College to happen on the high school campus itself is in line with the grant funding’s emphasis on sustainability, Lindy Marcel explained. In a rural setting, given distances and transportation expenses even just to Simon’s Rock, “investing in getting faculty members trained, certified, and on board with the Early College model is a big part of how we see that being sustainable long term.”

Southern Berkshire Regional School District Superintendent Dr. Beth Regulbuto would love to have as many faculty be certified as possible. She emphasizes that the certification is open to every teacher, even elementary, if they want to offer a college option. As she points out, Mt. Everett is “small enough that we can connect with every child.” They have the flexibility to create what the students want.

Marcel adds, “We can say, what are you interested in? Would you take this class?” Based on interest, Simon’s Rock will offer an anthropology class option next year, for instance.

Going off site still has its appeal, especially for the small, relatively “sheltered” Mt. Everett population. Leah Ruane laughed about being “terrified at first” and sticking close to her friends when being bussed for a lab but admitted, “it’s kind of relaxing to get out of the school building and go do something different.”

Tyler Nourse, a junior, liked how it “provides the real college experience.” He laughed, “We don’t have someone leading us to our class, saying lunch is over, you gotta go!”

This year, for the first time, Mt. Everett also offered “College Experience,” a four-part sequence class they are building with Simon’s Rock, meant to prepare students not only for college but, more broadly, the post-secondary world.

Senior Allison Steuernagle valued the “real world skills” the class imparted, such as “knowing how to hold yourself, like for interviews; body language, eye contact.” She described how a role-play actor came in and tried to get students out of their comfort zone and thinking on their feet. “I’m a pretty shy person, so I was nervous,” she admitted, “but overall it was a good experience. I actually didn’t hate it as much as I thought I would!”

Marcel stated, “We feel good about how College Experience is coming together, and I think it’s something other districts would be interested in.”

College admissions offices have been very supportive, she adds, accepting all of the Early College credits. “I think we are in the position to be a model school for other programs that are coming after us,” Marcel said proudly at the assembly. According to a Mass.gov press release last month, a state committee voted to expand the Massachusetts Early College program. Nearly 60 high schools across the state now participate.

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