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Vickroy: College credit where it’s due: in high school

Professor EricLannan teaches high school students Organismal Biology class part Math   Science Academy conjunctiwith Rich Township High School

Professor Erica Lannan teaches high school students in the Organismal Biology class part of the Math & Science Academy in conjunction with Rich Township High School District 227 Early College Program at Prairie State College in Chicago Heights, Illinois, Wednesday, February 13, 2013. | Joseph P. Meier~Sun-Times Media

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Updated: March 22, 2013 6:18AM



As twins, Kamille and Kalyn Hayslett are well aware of the financial crush a college education can bring upon their parents.

Fortunately, the Matteson 18-year-olds are enrolled in a new program that enables them to accrue college credit before even receiving their high school diplomas.

Rich Township High School District 227 and Prairie State College co-sponsor the Math and Science Academy, through which more than 20 high schoolers spend their senior year taking college-level classes and earning valuable college credit. If they combine the Prairie State classes with Advanced Placement classes at their respective high schools, the students can acquire a total of 30 hours of college credit.

“This is a huge privilege,” said Kalyn, who attends Rich South High School. “A tremendous blessing.”

Kamille said, “I like the opportunity to leave high school and go to a college campus. It’s a lot of responsibility, and I appreciate that they trust us.”

The sisters, who plan to room together next school year at Eastern Illinois University, and the other students enrolled in the program spend the morning at their District 227 campus and then, after lunch, take a bus to Prairie State in Chicago Heights.

The grant-funded program covers tuition, transportation and textbooks.

“This is a real college class,” professor Erica Lannon said of her organismal biology class. “There are college kids mixed in with high school kids.”

Just like the college-age students, the high schoolers are working on research projects.

The credits are transferable, whether the students plan to continue at the community college, go on to a state university or have their sights set on Stanford or another elite school, said Jennifer Norrell, District 227’s assistant superintendent for student learning and accountability.

The classes are among some of a college curriculum’s toughest. First semester courses included cellular and molecular biology; the second semester’s included calculus, and probability and statistics.

The program focuses on science, technology, engineering and math classes — called “STEM” in academic circles — with good reason.

“Students need to look more into STEM careers,” said Adenuga Atewologun, vice president of academic affairs at Prairie State College. “The unemployment rate with science degrees is typically half of the general population.”

Citing U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Atewologun said the unemployment rate for whites is 6.8 percent; for blacks, it’s 13.2 percent. For graduates with science or math degrees, the rate is 3.9 percent for whites and 7.1 percent for blacks.

“If we can get them into STEM classes early, they’re more likely to pursue careers in those fields, and those fields are where the jobs are,” he said.

In addition to giving students a leg up in the job market, Atewologun said these kinds of programs make sense for a community college to undertake.

“Students that are high-achieving sometimes get bored in their last year of high school. Instead of wasting a year with senioritis, why not challenge them to the next level?” he said. “Why shouldn’t students take advantage of this academic gem in their back yards?”

Programs like this boost the college’s reputation in the community, he added.

“It’s a win for the college, and a win for the high school,” he said.

Prairie State offers similar programs with Crete-Monee and the Bloom Township high schools.

District 227’s Norrell said, “These are not our Advanced Placement kids; these are honors kids.”

Because AP students already have the opportunity to earn college credit, given they score the requisite grade on the AP exams, Norrell said the district decided to reach out to the next level of high achievers, although several of the honors students also are enrolled in AP classes at their high schools.

“By doing this we stretched that whole middle group,” she said.

Christopher White, 18, hopes to attend Northwestern University and major in biology. He plans to become a physician.

Getting a jump start on college, he said, “is a great opportunity to save money, especially when you plan to have a lot of schooling.”

The Country Club Hills teen said being selected from the more than 50 who applied for the program is an honor.

“As college kids, we know we have to calm down and act more like adults. We’re adapting,” he said.

Kalyn, who plans to study communications, said the dual attendance is not just a privilege but a responsibility.

“We have a heavy workload,” she said. “It’s a balancing act. It’s not always easy keeping up.”

Kamille, a soon-to-be psychology major, added, “But this is a nice preview to college. It’s really preparing us.”

This is the program’s first year, Norrell said, but District 227 is hoping to expand it, perhaps offering opportunities for students interested in earning a certified nurses aid or emergency medical technician certificate.



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