By Bill Cantwell
---- — HAVERHILL — At a time when most high school students are trying to decide which colleges to attend and what classes to take when they get there, these kids are one step ahead.
And it’s a big step that helps their transition to college life.
While they are still juniors and seniors at Haverhill High School, dozens of students are also taking classes at UMass Lowell.
It’s become a trend at Haverhill High, with about 40 juniors and seniors taking classes offered by the college during the last two years.
The classes vary from writing to engineering. The students participate in an Early College partnership with UMass Lowell, taking College Writing and Introduction to Engineering I and II.
If they complete the courses successfully, they will have college transcripts at UMass Lowell, with academic credits that can be transferred to any other state college or university.
Meg Keppler, the district’s curriculum coordinator for Science, said the engineering course has two components. Students who successfully complete Introduction to Engineering I in the fall semester can take Intro to Engineering II in the spring, she said. Most students who start the course move on to the second phase, she said.
Engineering students receive two college credits for each semester-long course. Writing students receive three college credits for their course. These are the same numbers of credits earned by students at UMass Lowell. The classes also count for one credit of math and English Language Arts at Haverhill High.
The program is open to juniors and seniors who have a grade-point average of at least 3.0. The engineering program began in the spring semester of last year. The college writing program began in the fall.
A Haverhill High guidance counselor suggested senior Julia Garbec consider the writing class. Garbec said she wanted a challenging English class, but feared Advanced Placement English would be too much for her. Now, she thinks she made the right choice.
“I think this class is easier and more difficult than high school classes at the same time,’’ she said, “less about writing essays on things such as syntax, and more on analyzing and understanding the text, and then being able to apply it. I had a general idea at the start about how this course would require more effort, but now that I’m taking it, I realize how challenging it can be.”
Garbec said she hasn’t finalized her college plans yet, but is leaning toward a school like UMass Amherst, which has a rural campus to give her a change from city life.
She’s uncertain what her major will be, but she does know that unlike most freshmen, she won’t have to take a first-year writing course because she will already have it on her transcript.
Here’s how the UMass Lowell courses work: The courses are free, a benefit to the Haverhill High students. The students and their professors meet in person only a few times during the semester. The remainder of the interaction is electronic. Professors record their lectures and post them online.
The class assignments are posted to Blackboard, an interactive software program, and the Haverhill High students work on the assignments at home or in the high school. Blackboard gives students and their professor the ability to communicate easily.
The Enginering I students visit the UMass Lowell campus four times during the semester, Keppler said. Each visit brings with it a test. For example, students are given an assignment to build a bridge with the highest possible load-to-weight ratio. On their trip to the UMass Lowell campus, they bring their bridges and test them on equipment there.
The same is true for assignments such as building wind turbines and generators. The finished project is tested at the college and students are given a new topic to work on.
For the writing students, there are fewer trips to campus because there is a field trip to the Walden Institute built into the program since their studies focus on Henry David Thoreau and other American writers including Thomas Jefferson and Ralph Waldo Emerson.
HOW IT WORKS
Haverhill High students with a grade-point average of 3.0 or better are eligible.
They can take college freshman writing or engineering courses at UMass Lowell.
The students get credits at both the high school and college levels for the classes.
The credits can be transferred to any other state college or university.