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High schoolers will be in college, too

Fayette County Public Schools officials are gearing up a new program to boost interest in higher education by allowing selected high school students to spend their junior and senior years studying at Bluegrass Community and Technical College.

Students who completed two years in the new Middle College Program potentially could graduate with a high school diploma from the Fayette schools and an associate degree from BCTC.

The program will be discussed at Monday's 6 p.m. meeting of the Fayette County Board of Education, 701 East Main Street. It already has received approval.

Middle college programs were established in New York in the 1970s as collaborations between school districts and community colleges to expose high school students to new learning environments.

Lexington's program will be aimed at youngsters who have college potential but might not be considering college or might know little about what college is really like, says Mike McKenzie, director of high schools for the Fayette County Public Schools.

"We think that if you put them in an environment where expectations are really high, and they see those expectations and realize that they can do well with the right support, they would be interested in going on to college," Mc Kenzie said. "It could be a real win-win situation."

The new program is slated to begin in August with the 2009-10 school year.

Fifty students — 10 juniors and seniors from each of the district's five high schools — would be eligible.

Instead of going to their respective high schools each day, the 50 youngsters would report to BCTC's Leestown campus, where they would take regular high school classes and be eligible to take college courses.

Teachers from the Fayette County schools would teach the high school classes; the college courses would be taught by BCTC faculty members.

According to McKenzie, the Fayette schools will start identifying students for the program during the next several weeks, working through guidance counselors at the high schools.

Fayette County schools plan to pay for the Middle College Program with money from a federal "smaller learning community" grant. The county schools also will cover the students' BCTC tuition costs, officials said.

"The goal is help the kids see a bit of college life and then transition into college with some credits already under their belts," McKenzie said. "I think that when you put it in terms of dollars and cents, parents are really going to be excited about it."

Fayette school officials looked at similar programs in other areas before planning the Lexington effort, McKenzie said.

Rebecca Simms, director of dual credit initiatives at BCTC, says the Middle College Program will be a bit like "a high school that's housed on a community college campus."

"We're not just replacing one traditional high school with another," she said. "The atmosphere will be different, with more performance-oriented learning.

"Obviously, it's not for every high school student. But it will be a different environment, where the kids will be surrounded by college students and see a little bit more of the future and more of the options that are available to them, whereas in a high school setting they might not be able to clearly visualize that."

Simms noted that students in the Middle School Program will not be required to take college courses and that many might not want to. But the program will help prepare them for enrolling in college if they choose to go, she said.

A student who started in the program as a junior potentially could complete an associate college degree by the time he or she graduates from high school, she said. However, that would be a "real challenge," she added.

"But it certainly is plausible that a student could start as a junior, take two college classes each semester, and get a full year of college by the time they graduate from high school," she said.