BCC and MCLA Summer Academy designed to acclimate students to college life

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PITTSFIELD — How do you get 17 young adults to willingly spend their summer in a classroom studying?

Offer them tuition-free college credits, a paid internship, a laptop computer, and some snacks.

This year, 17 students were selected to take part in the Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts/Berkshire Community College Summer 2017 Academy, a free, five-week program designed to help high school students jump-start their college careers. The academy, based in a shared classroom space in Pittsfield's Silvio O. Conte Federal Building, is now in its final week.

The colleges piloted the program last summer, and it was revised and continued this summer with the support of a $45,000 grant from the Massachusetts Department of Higher Education's Commonwealth Dual Enrollment Program. The joint MCLA/BCC program is designed to give recent high school graduates and rising seniors the chance to acclimate to the rigors and expectations of college life, while getting to know their peers from throughout the county and simultaneously earning up to six college course credits. Transferable to either college, the estimated cost savings on credits to students who pass their courses is $2,000.

"I'm trying to graduate in three and a half years, so for me, I like [the academy]. It's a good opportunity," said Crystal Wojcik, a Class of 2017 graduate of Hoosac Valley High School who will study mathematics and education at MCLA this fall.

The program runs daily between the hours of 8 a.m. and 4:30 p.m., and includes two academic courses: the returning English 101: An Introduction to College-Level Composition, taught by BCC adjunct professor, Grace von Moritz, and a new, more advanced Math 232: Introductions to Statistics course, taught by adjunct MCLA professor, Judith Clarno.

"It's awesome," von Moritz said of the program. "The students are very engaged, this is a very intense workload." The professor said they're using a text book and writing at levels that are usually stretched out over a 15-week semester versus a 4-week core academic period.

During their time in the academy, students also participate in college readiness activities, like campus tours, financial planning seminars, and study skills sessions. To help them complete and track their summer assignments, each student this year was also given an HP Stream laptop to keep.

The idea of dual enrollment is nothing new; high school students are able to work with registrars at both colleges to determine what credited courses they are eligible to take, typically at a reduced cost, while in high school.

Sabrina Damms is an ambitious student who has taken full advantage of the local dual enrollment offerings. She took a couple of college courses after school while attending Pittsfield High School. This fall, while she's been waiting for her Advanced Placement scores and marks from this current session, she'll be at least four courses ahead entering MCLA this fall, having gotten her core English and math requirements out of the way.

"I wanted to have my core courses done with, so that way I can focus on my major," said Damms, who will be studying English communications, with concentrations in writing and broadcasting.

She said taking the extra college-level courses were an added, but manageable challenge to her daily routine. "I had to learn how to manage my time and get my homework done while taking seven-periods worth of classes, plus a class after school," said Damms.

The summer academy is also unique in that the colleges partner with the Berkshire Regional Employment Board's summer program for youth employment to help match interested students with a paid work internship.

Bradley Odell, a rising senior at McCann Technical School, for example, has been preparing for lab work as an assistant in MCLA's physics lab.

Jake Eberwein, MCLA's dean of graduate and continuing education, stopped by the academy during it's mid-morning break last week to offer some remarks to the students.

"Your professors have been speaking very positively of you as a group and how you've been opening up and making progress. We're all really impressed how you're getting up early in the morning to come here and do work," Eberwein said.

Lily Duval, a rising a senior at Mt. Everett Regional School, commutes to the program from the Sheffield area each day. She asked Eberwein whether the colleges would ever expand dual enrollment programs using BCC's South County Center or other northern Berkshire locales.

Eberwein responded by describing some efforts to apply for additional grant funding to expand the summer academy.

"Our ultimate hope is that every high school senior in the county graduates with college credit when they walk out the door; ideally 12 credits, because that's a full semester they'll be ahead by," Eberwein said.

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