Getting a jump start. Yes!

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Alexis Sherwood and Stephanie Smith both wanted to attend college, but they weren’t sure if they would be able to do so. Then they learned about Early College at Montcalm Community College and their dreams became reality.

Both juniors from Greenville High School, the teens are two of 18 area students enrolled in the first Early College program at MCC.

Early College enables juniors from participating high schools in the Montcalm Area Intermediate School District to complete high school while taking college classes. They may earn up to two years of college credit or an associate degree as part of their high school learning experience.

Early College at MCC allows students to earn high school and college degrees simultaneously.

“It’s giving me a head start on college,” Smith says.

“It has been a fantastic experience,” Sherwood adds.

Both of the teenagers are in their second semester at the college. The program requires that they leave their home high school and attend all of their classes on the college’s Sidney campus.

According to Early College Director Shannon Tripp, the program offers personalized learning in math, English, social studies and science. Each participating school is allotted seats based on its total school headcount. Students must apply for admission to Early College the spring prior to enrolling in the program.

“Students make the decision to apply to Early College for many different reasons,” Tripp says. “Some want to accelerate their high school career, some students don’t fit into the typical high school scene, and some don’t believe they would be able to afford college any other way.”

Early College accepts up to 45 students per year. If the number of applicants exceeds available seats, a lottery system is used to select participants.

“Half of the slots for Early College are reserved for students that are first generation college attendees, which means neither of their parents have any type of college degree,” Tripp says. “That was intentional because it is the goal of Early College at MCC to help students who don’t believe, for whatever reason, that college is an option for them.

“When a family has no experience navigating a college campus and its system, it can be intimidating. We offer that help,” Tripp adds.

During the first semester, students are taught soft skills necessary to be successful in college.

“Many students at all levels struggle with note taking, study skills, time management and communication,” Tripp says. “Early College focuses on those types of skills because when students know how to organize, study and make time for homework, they are better prepared to navigate college classes.”

Alexis’s mother, Heather Sherwood, graduated from MCC’s nursing program last spring. She knew the struggles her daughter was having in high school. When she learned about the opportunity to attend Early College at MCC, she recalled her positive experiences at the college and felt it would be a good fit for Alexis, too.

Learning soft skills is one component Heather believes has helped Alexis be successful in the program.

“The Early College curriculum gives students an opportunity to get ready to take college classes,” Heather says. “The great thing about this program for Alexis is that she is getting one-on-one help in the areas that she was struggling with in high school.”

Julie Beech is currently enrolled at MCC and says the individualized instruction and overall positive atmosphere she has experienced as a student are characteristics she believed would help her daughter, Stephanie Smith, excel as she completes high school. Beech says that although the pace is faster than traditional high school, Stephanie “is actually learning better. I can see the difference in her – she is slowly becoming more confident in herself.”

She says the opportunity is a great fit for her daughter.

“It’s free college. You don’t have to be a straight A student to be accepted into the program – you just have to have the passion and drive to do it,” Beech says.

Both of the teenagers agree that attending college while still in high school was a transition that they had to be committed to.

“You have to be all in. You have to be in the mindset for homework and studying,” Smith says.

“It’s a good program,” Alexis Sherwood says, “but you have to understand that you have to study. You have to put the time into your classes and do your homework.”

Applications are currently being accepted for the 2014-2015 Early College class. For more information, visit www.montcalm.edu/earlycollege or contact Early College Director Shannon Tripp at 616-225-5706 or earlycollege@montcalm.edu.

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