By Raven Hill, Senior Writer/Editor, Prince George’s County Public Schools, and
Mona Rock, Coordinator of Public Relations, Prince George’s Community College
After years of research, planning, and consultations, representatives of Prince George’s County Public Schools (PGCPS) and Prince George’s
Community College (PGCC) opened the first middle college high school in Largo, Maryland, and a few miles from Washington, D.C. The Academy of Health Sciences @ Prince George’s Community College focuses on preparing students to enter a college program in the health sciences field, providing students with the required curriculum for a public high school diploma, and the opportunity to earn an associate degree in General Studies. In July 2011, the first class of students, 100 incoming ninth-graders, arrived for a three-week summer bridge program. Today, students are thriving and completing a rigorous curriculum to address the county’s need to build a qualified healthcare workforce. A class will be added each year until the academy reaches full enrollment, roughly 400 students, through twelfth grade.
How it all Began
In 2007, school system officials began exploring ways to enhance program choice options amid declining enrollment. At the conclusion of discussions with PGCC representatives, the systems jointly developed plans for this historic school.
PGCPS and PGCC key administrators formed a workgroup to research and determine the feasibility of the formation of a middle college high school on the main campus of PGCC. A subgroup of PGCPS and PGCC administrators visited existing middle colleges, Harbor Teacher Preparation Academy, Los Angeles, CA; Challenge Early College HS, Houston, TX; Middle College High School at LaGuardia Community College HS, Long Island City, NY and participated in the Middle College National Consortium Summer Institute, as part of their extensive research on best practices. They saw the alignment between Early College/Middle college high schools and college partners as it relates to dual enrollment and the rich collaboration between high school and college faculties in working collectively to ensure student success. Although the costs of EC-MC high schools may be higher per pupil than in comprehensive high schools, in the long run it benefits students and the communities that they serve
From this initial work, a strong partnership was formed. The partners established several committees (i.e., Budget, Curriculum, Facilities and Technology, Marketing, Recruitment, Security and Transportation, and Student Services) that allowed administrators and faculty to develop a comprehensive implementation plan, including a student application and selection process to ensure equitable participation from all areas of Prince George’s County.
The application process provided for 50 percent of the seats being allocated to students identified as traditionally underserved (i.e., at-risk, economically-disadvantaged students and first- generation college students). Other criteria for admission included completion of the Academy Summer Bridge Program. The Academy received nearly 1,000 applications for the inaugural ninth grade class.
“One of the primary predictors of student success in college is their exposure to college-level work during their high school years,” said Dr. William R. Hite, Jr., Superintendent of Prince George’s County schools. “Students in our Academy of Health Sciences at Prince George’s Community College will not only have access to college-level academic work, they will also be exposed to an enriching and supporting college environment.” The Academy is expected to provide primary and secondary benefits to Prince George’s County stakeholders.
“Students enrolled in the Middle College Health Sciences Academy will graduate with a high school diploma and, at the maximum, an associate degree,” said Dr. Charlene M. Dukes, President of Prince George’s Community College. “Our significant partnership with the Prince George’s County Public Schools gives us the opportunity to work together and meet the educational needs of our community through an educational program that offers students and their families a fast track to a collegiate experience.”
The Academy of Health Sciences will also challenge teachers and administrators to see all students as college students. The goal is for educators to take lessons learned from the college to enhance academic programming at all Prince George’s County high schools. The path toward increasing the opportunity to earn dual-enrollment credit will be built upon the school system’s pilot work in this area. With the Academy of Health Sciences, school system, and community college, officials expect to move toward making a higher education realistic for all students.
PGCC and PGCPS share a commitment to student success and completion. Students enrolled in the Academy of Health Sciences will be presented with every opportunity for success and will benefit from the knowledge and expertise of individuals at both institutions. PGCC faculty members and PGCPS teachers work together to ensure student needs are met and collaborate on challenging course offerings. Graduates of the Academy of Health Sciences will be well-prepared to enter one of PGCC’s Health Sciences Clinical Programs or pursue studies at a four-year college or university.
PGCC Health Sciences Clinical Programs
- Health Information Management
- Medical Coder/Billing Specialist
- Nuclear Medicine
- Respiratory Therapy
- Food Science,
- Health Education
- Physical Education
The four-year academic plan blends high school and college courses. Ninth-graders take rigorous high school classes, and college courses are gradually introduced and become the program’s foundation by twelfth grade. Students are supported by the presence of academic coaches and a framework that allows high school teachers to work with students on days the college course is not in session.
Student Profile: Toria Hawkins
Toria Hawkins is your average high school freshman enjoying a not-so-average high school experience. Hawkins lives in Largo and attended Benjamin Foulois Creative and Performing Arts Academy and Phyllis E. Williams Elementary School. She is a member of the student government at the Academy of Health Sciences.
As part of the inaugural class of students, Hawkins and approximately 100 other ninth-graders are working simultaneously on
requirements for their high school diplomas and associate degree. For Hawkins, a 15-year-old aspiring psychiatrist, it is the opportunity to start building a career path. Her grandmother told her about the new school last year.
“I knew the academy would be a good start for psychology classes,” she said. “We’re being challenged more than the normal classroom. We still get to have the social aspect of high school, but with the academics, we’re getting so much of an advantage.”
Her classes include a mix of science classes that explore psychology, biology, chemistry and ecology concepts; advanced mathematics; honors-level English; history, and Chinese. Though she felt intimidated on the first day of classes, Hawkins said she is now more at ease. “Now I feel like this is my school as well as the college students’,” she said. “We’re all here for education. It fits now.”
As she looks towards the future, Hawkins points to Georgetown University and Howard University as her top two choices for college. For now, she is focused on her studies, extracurricular pursuits – student government is a way to “help out my community,” she says – and getting everything she can out of this unique high school experience.
“The teachers at our school want us to succeed,” she said. “Going into high school, you want the normality of the high school experience. I know this looks frightening and you may think there are going to be drawbacks. But you have to take that risk. This is like the normal high school, but we’re taking it a step further.”
Point of View
Principal, Kathy Richard-Andrews
I began working on this historic initiative in April 2007 with regional assistant superintendent Bruce Katz. Our main challenge was to identify funding for the program. We went to several middle college schools across the country to discuss their best practices. I was most impressed by the level of confidence MC-EC students articulated about being able to handle the demands of a college curriculum and their academic success in earning college credit. We were particularly interested in how they were able to get most students to complete the requirements for a high school diploma and associates degree.
One of our “lessons learned” was the understanding of the power of the summer school program for our incoming freshmen, who are
transitioning from middle school to high school and college life. Having them come here in July really prepared them for the introduction into college life. Our students were able to benefit from the having the space as exclusively theirs. Getting accustomed to high school is one challenge, but getting accustomed to being on a college campus is completely different. They were the youngest students on this campus, barely out of middle school. We saw so much growth from the summer to the fall, and now the spring. That summer school experience is invaluable in helping these young people make the transition.
It’s been most rewarding watching the students grow – emotionally, socially, and academically – and seeing them come together as a team. They support each other. We don’t have “mean kids.” There’s a respect between them that makes me want to cry.
My greatest challenge is to ensure that all parties involved – my community college, my parents, my school district, my staff – are on the same page, that we all share the vision and understand the mission of the school design. We are new. We are the first middle college in Maryland. There’s no model in DC or Virginia. No one else in the area has studied the concept on the same level that I have, so I have to make sure they understand what it’s going to look like from year one to year two to year three to year four.
If this were a marriage, Prince George’s Community College would be the perfect groom. This is a real partnership. As far as I am concerned, this serves as the model for the nation of how it should look and feel when we talk about school systems partnering with community colleges. The adults on this campus protect our students, care for our students and want to see them succeed.
The Accolades Keep Coming
Since its opening, the Academy of Health Sciences has received significant attention. In addition to tremendous news coverage in the Washington metropolitan area and in national higher education publications, Prince George’s Community College was honored as one of President Obama’s White House Champion of Change. College president Charlene M. Dukes accepted the recognition for PGCC’s partnership with the PGCPS to create the middle college and the college’s impact in the community and innovative approaches to solving long standing challenges in helping individuals achieve their educational and career goals. “Its opening is evidence that despite the economic challenges of today, our public school and college leaders are facilitating learning in transformational ways for tomorrow’s leaders as one solution to global competitiveness in the decades ahead,” Dukes said.
For more information about the Academy of Health Sciences, visit http://www1.pgcps.org/academyatpgcc/index.aspx?id=147422