“I was ready for a new experience…” “My parents were excited about saving 2 years of college tuition…” “I wanted to be around students who are as focused on learning as I am…”
These are just some of the reasons that students including Arric Lucas, Taishmara Galarza and Mariama Brown decided to join the inaugural class of St. Louis Public Schools’ Early College Academy. Led by the District’s Office of College and Career Readiness, which the SLPS Foundation supports, the Early College Academy is a new partnership with St. Louis Community College — Forest Park campus.
“We started the Early College Academy for multiple reasons,” comments Dr. Dan Edwards, SLPS Director of To-and-Through. “The Academy can offer students higher level courses than our traditional high schools do; we are helping families save up to two years of college tuition; and we were seeing that some of our seniors have taken all of the highest level courses they can take in their high schools. It’s a good idea on a number of fronts.” In its first year, the SLPS Office of College and Career Readiness invited SLPS high school students who had completed their third semesters of high school and had at least a 3.5 GPA to take the St. Louis Community College’s placement exam; if they achieved a score that indicated they were ready for college-level coursework, they were invited to apply to the Early College Academy. Last spring, the Academy admitted 30 students, 29 of whom accepted and are currently pursuing both their high school diplomas and associates’ degrees. Plans are to admit a similar cohort of rising juniors this coming year. As it does with all of the SLPS high schools, the SLPS Foundation will support these students’ college counseling, ACT preparation, and visits.
Arriving by school bus, city bus, or car, the students report each day to the campus of St. Louis Community College – Forest Park campus. The Community College has designated a suite of rooms on campus for the SLPS students for studying, meetings, and lunch. “This is our school community now,” notes Taishmara, who returns to her home high school, Cleveland, for ROTC class. Each student takes a courseload that meets both Missouri high school diploma requirements, and qualifies them for an Associates’ degree. “The course selection here is why I came. There are so many more options than high school,” said Stefan, who is taking higher-level computer science courses.
Rick Cusumano, who had previously served as a guidance counselor at Gateway STEM high school, is the SLPS Early College Academy counselor and meets with students throughout the day. ”These are very motivated students. They have formed a strong community amongst themselves and are helping each other to study…we get into some great debates here,” noting the students’ intellectual zeal. Cusumano says the biggest adjustment students have is managing their time. “Students are expected to act like college students here, and they have to accomplish their work independently. I try to make sure they know how and where to ask for help if they need it.” Cusumano provides students with guidance as they juggle jobs, and double course loads. He also ensures they stay connected to their home high schools, where some still take classes as well as play on sports teams. “I look forward to going to these students’ double graduations in May 2018—their high school and college ones.” Funding for the SLPS Foundation’s College & Career Readiness efforts is thanks to Enterprise Holding, Inc.