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High school students get head start on college

October 10, 2003|by PEPPER BALLARD

pepperb@herald-mail.com

On Monday and Wednesday mornings, Brenna Bacon sleeps while her North Hagerstown High School classmates hit the school's hallways.

But Bacon's not late. She's just getting an early start.

The North High senior is among 181 county students taking advantage of the first-year ESSENCE (Early Support for Students to Enter College Education) program, a dual enrollment program designed through Hagerstown Community College that offers half-price tuition to academically eligible county public, private and home-schooled students.

HCC President Guy Altieri said enrollment numbers for the ESSENCE program are "higher than we expected," noting that last year, before half-price tuition, only 70 of the county's high school students went to the college.

To be eligible for the program, Washington County Public Schools students must have at least a 2.5 grade-point average. They also must have completed required High School Assessment tests and pass COMPASS, a placement test designed by the Learning Community Project between the school system and the college, Altieri has said.

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Altieri has said private and home-schooled students also have to take a test to determine whether they qualify for college-level classes.

For Bacon and Boonsboro High School senior Russell Hanson, 16, the program is a perfect fit.

Bacon prefers the flexibility of college life. She can sleep in on days she doesn't have classes and finish her homework before she goes to high school in the afternoon.

As a varsity soccer player, Bacon said it's a relief not having to worry about finishing homework after a late-night game.

Hanson, who goes to the college in the afternoons, said freedom between classes gives him more time to get errands and work finished.

He likes the atmosphere at HCC better than at Boonsboro.

"There's not nearly as much behavior problems as in high school. It's easier to concentrate on learning," Hanson said.

The two students agreed that professors at the college also are more relaxed than teachers at their high schools.

Both are planning to attend college next fall, but they haven't decided yet where they'll go. Bacon, who plans to major in either psychology or law, and Hanson, who plans to major in chemistry, are taking at least two classes at the college this semester. They are both honors students.

Students will receive high school and Hagerstown Community College credit if they complete and pass the class, Boyd Michael, the school system's executive director of secondary education, has said.

Credits would appear on students' transcripts from both the college and the school system, he has said.

Whether the HCC credits students receive through the program will transfer to other colleges and universities will depend on the schools' individual admissions policies, Michael has said.

"I look forward to going to school," Hanson said. "I got a glimpse of college life now and I love it."

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