Fayette students see new college opportunities

Fayette County Public Schools (FCPS) and the University of Kentucky’s College of Education are warming up to new options as they develop plans together for the new STEAM Academy, slated to open in fall of 2013.

School district officials participating in the College of Education’s Next Generation Leadership Academy, meant to develop innovation zones within schools, wanted to encourage more students to prepare for and enroll in higher education, particularly students who might be the first generation from their family to attend college. They looked at models of “early college” programs and determined that Lexington was ripe for a new opportunity.


STEAM Academy

The new STEAM Academy will empha-size science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) with an added arts component; the schoolwork will be self-paced, determined by each student’s ability and motivation. As early as junior year in high school, STEAM students could be taking courses at UK and accumulating college credits. Some students will graduate with plenty of UK credits, others with none, and most somewhere in between. The mastery system will dictate their speed of progress, rather than seat time. Internship experiences will be incorporated; FCPS high schools already offer experience-based education programs, from which students have benefited greatly.

Linda France, director of Next Generation Learning partnerships at UK’s College of Education, explained, “All efforts are to help students make the transition from high school into college and career. Students from across Fayette County, from all different demographics, will apply to be a part of the STEAM Academy. We know that there will be a diversity of preparation, a lot of diversity within the school. Some students may move through the program faster than others. Every student will have some kind of technology device to connect to resources and to opportunities outside the school walls and outside the state to engage in learning at a much deeper level.”

That’s the big picture. Many details remain to be ironed out, including selection of a principal and teaching staff.

Students will apply as eighth-graders for entry into the four-year program. Selection will take place by application and then lottery. The application will emphasize interest and commitment, not academic credentials. Beginning in ninth grade, students would be in a school next to the UK campus, hopefully near the College of Education. UK College of Education Dean Mary John O’Hair underscored her “commitment to have the STEAM Academy students close to campus,” to facilitate a close partnership.

“We should be giving students choices and personalized learning opportunities,” O’Hair said, “And we hope this work will have ripple effects across Kentucky and nationally.”


Opportunity Middle College

Another early college opportunity was established four years ago by FCPS. Opportunity Middle College (OMC) operates in partnership with Bluegrass Community and Technical College and is sited on BCTC’s Leestown campus. Students complete high-school work as well as BCTC courses, and they have access to courses on BCTC’s Leestown and Cooper campuses. Students are encouraged to pursue dual-credit courses such as English 101, which fulfills high school and college requirements simultaneously. They’re also encouraged to follow their interests and take courses in other departments.

OMC Principal Frank LaBoone indicates that the program has met with success: roughly 85 percent of students enrolled have achieved higher grade point averages in OMC than they had at their home high schools.

LaBoone said. “One of the things that we see with students is that increase in the confidence level, that ‘I can really be successful in college.’ Most of our students are lower income and first generation, and might have been thinking they couldn’t even go to college. Now they think, ‘I can do this. I am smart and can achieve at these high levels.’” Indeed, 95 percent of OMC participants have completed the program’s requirements and graduated from their high schools, with 90 percent planning to continue college studies.

While enrolled at OMC, students have collected more than 1,600 college credit hours, not including summer school terms or this current semester, and the majority of grades received have been As or Bs. LaBoone cited the financial value of 1,600 credit hours: $225,000 worth of free education for low-income students.

“This is a program that will have long-range impacts on our students and our district, especially that population of under-represented students whom our district serves,” LaBoone said. “The economic impact that this program provides for them from FCPS, BCTC and grant funding makes it financially feasible for students. They figure out that there are ways to go to college that are affordable.”

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