New program gets Selma students a chance at college degree

Published 12:00 am Sunday, February 20, 2005

A select group of Selma students are getting a unique opportunity to receive a college education before they graduate from high school.

The Selma Early College High School, a new program designed to help disadvantaged youth earn a high school diploma and college degree at the same time, began only a few weeks ago but has already gained national attention.

Representatives from several major corporations and government agencies will be in town next week for the dedication ceremony of the ECHS program, which officially launched on Jan. 18 at Selma High School.

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The Selma City School System is expecting representatives from DuPont, John Deere Corp. and NASA to attend meetings and an evening reception on Feb. 25 at Wallace Community College Selma.

These entities are among a long list of corporations, government agencies and special interest groups who will spend the day discussing the ECHS program with school officials and Mayor James Perkins Jr.

They all have an interest in seeing the ECHS program succeed because, through a partnership with a math and science alliance known as SECME, they are helping to fund the program, according ECHS director Irene Smith.

“The impact this program has had in Selma is really extraordinary,” Perkins said. “It’s an opportunity for us to really excel. It’s the only program of its kind in Alabama, which shows that we are leading the way in Selma.”

The ECHS was developed in Selma in late 2003, after SECME awarded the school system with a $400,000 grant to create an ECHS program at Selma High School.

School officials teamed up with WCCS, Alabama State University and Tuskegee University to create a unique education curriculum designed to give financially burdened students a head start in life.

Far from being a free pass to college, Smith said the 100 ninth-graders selected for the program have to dedicate long hours at school each day, take college-prep courses, and go to classes nearly year-round.

“There is a pay off at the end, because these students will graduate with a high school diploma and an Associate’s degree, but they have to be willing to make sacrifices,” Smith said.

Students in ECHS typically begin their day of classes at Selma High around 7:30 a.m. and stay at school until 4p.m. They spend every Friday on the campus of WCCS for Early College Math and Early College English courses.

“Our curriculum is on a much faster pace,” Smith said. “Our students are taking a biology class now that they’d normally take in 10th grade.”

Smith added that the SECME curriculum also involves more hands-on, research-based activities than in a typical classroom.

During the summer, ECHS students will continue their college education through “Summer Bridge” programs at Tuskegee University, Penn State and North Carolina University.

“These students put in a lot of work, but I’ve never heard them complain,” Smith said. “Parents tell me their kids are complaining about school less because they are excited about what they are doing.”

The targeted career occupations for students in ECHS are in the fields of agribusiness, Ag Engineering, Aquaculture, Chemistry, engineering, and computer science.

Smith said recruitment as already begun at Selma Middle C.H.A.T Academy to enroll 100 students for next year’s program.

“Students have to write an essay and meet the criteria of being economically-deprived and have the potential to be the first generation in their families to go to college,” Smith said.

Perkins said he is asking the public and the business community to show their support of the ECHS program at the 5 p.m. public reception at WCCS on Feb. 25.

“Some people say this program is cutting-edge, but I say it’s leading-edge in term of education,” Perkins said. “We’re finally doing something to help our youth, and it has corporate and government interest coming into our community to offer support.”