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The Bay Atlantic Symphony visited Vineland High School for the third year. Video by Jose Moreno

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VINELAND - A few weeks into a new school year and 40 Vineland High School teens are now matriculated college students.

These participants in the school district’s Applied Math and Science Academy are on course to graduate Cumberland County College with an associate degree about a month before they are awarded high school diplomas at the end of their senior year.

Students met with district and CCC administrators on Tuesday for a computer orientation and course overview in the VHS South Media Center, where they were greeted with a pep rally.

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“This path you are on is just the first step,” said Nate Frey, the district’s assistant superintendent of curriculum and instruction. “You are just beginning what we have talked about now for four years.”

Students will take college-level courses at VHS, earning CCC credits at no cost. They don’t pay registration or technology fees and they don’t have to purchase textbooks, saving them thousands of dollars.

Their investment is the school work that will earn them an associate degree in math and science, with a concentration in engineering.

“I think this is a great program, it has its ups and downs just like everything,” sophomore Kaylee Carlson said, acknowledging the challenging workload. “It’s a great path if you want to be surrounded by good people, good teachers and get the best education you possibly can — it’s a great way to maximize your K-12 education.”

When the district debuted its Applied Math and Science Academy for sixth- and seventh-graders in 2014, Frey acknowledged the students were learning at such an accelerated pace they would need additional challenges when they reached high school and he vowed to open college doors to them while they were still on the VHS campus.

Alondra Collado, a freshman, was eager to sign up when she was a middle school student.

With a natural aptitude for math and science, Collado said she got great test scores but didn’t “feel I was being challenged enough.”

Enrolling in AMAS, she is moving closer to her goal of becoming a pediatric surgeon.

“I think it’s the people driving me,” she said. “They are very supportive, they guide and help me with any challenge that I face.”

Working with the CCC President Yves Salomon-Fernandez and Jerome Taylor of the George Washington Carver Early College High School Program, the school district developed this new educational pathway to duo diplomas.

Salomon-Fernandez greeted her newest students, all wearing gray CCC T-shirts.

“We are super, super excited,” she told the teens. “I’m so glad to meet you today.”

Salomon-Fernandez is well acquainted with the district’s AMSA program due to the participation of her fifth-grade son.

“I see firsthand the challenge that my son is given so I know it’s hard but you know what’s most important, I know you guys can kick butt,” the college president said.

“You are the crème de la crème, the cream of the crop,” she told them. “You are going to set the bar very high for everybody who follows you.”

With a grin, she added, “No pressure.”

“We are really excited to kick off this program of dual enrollment,” Superintendent Mary Gruccio said. “This will be a hybrid where some of our courses will be online, some we’ll have Cumberland County College people here teaching you.”

The hope, she said, is to eventually expand the college opportunity into the other disciplines in the high school curriculum.

About 20 sophomores are the first to enter the CCC component, Frey said, adding another 20 VHS freshman will start in January.

A dual credit program on steroids, students will take the CCC courses at VHS, which makes it unique in the area.

VHS Principal Tom McCann commended the student groundbreakers.

“You are developing the template to make this work and you’re doing a good job,” McCann said. “I enjoy walking through your classes; you’re always engaged with great teachers and you’re having fun.”

The AMSA is based in the C-wing at VHS South.

“You’re a school within a school, that’s really what you have going on here,” McCann said.

Instead of the traditional nine-period school day, the students are on a college block schedule. Aware of the demanding workload, the academy includes built-in supports including regular meetings with counselor, Paul Myers, where they can vent.

“They are motivated,” Myers said, noting the students are also well-rounded.

Frey noted the academy is not exclusively for the “smartest” students, but for those with a passion for science and math. Many students are giving up their option to take elective courses to focus on the AMSA course, Frey said, hoping they are motivated by their love of math and science.

“If you do what you love, you’ll never work a day in your life,” he said.

Offering the students access to this accelerated learning may pay a long-term dividend, Frey said.

“I really believe that math and science is the only thing that is going to change, not only our city, but our state and our country,” Frey said, explaining the students are trained in critical thinking and problem solving.

“I hope they go to high-powered schools and get high-powered engineering degrees, math degrees, science degrees, and then they come back to Vineland and make Vineland a better place,” he said.

Deborah M. Marko: (856) 563-5256; dmarko@gannettnj.com

 

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