$200K grant to develop early college pilot program

  • Mohawk Trail Regional School in Buckland. STAFF FILE PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

Staff Writer
Published: 10/24/2022 1:44:25 PM
Modified: 10/24/2022 1:44:13 PM

A $200,000 grant awarded to Franklin County’s public schools will allow them to partner with Greenfield Community College to develop a new early college pilot program aimed at increasing the number of students who take college courses while still in high school.

Although the grant involves seven public schools in the county, the pilot program will take place at Mohawk Trail Regional School in Buckland.

“This program will allow us the time to envision what an early college model in Franklin County will look like as we consider our unique community and student needs,” Peggy Fallon, GCC’s dual enrollment coordinator, wrote in an email.

This year will involve planning for the program, to be called ACCESS Franklin County. Countywide, schoolwide and larger community conversations will focus on increasing career and college opportunities for students.

“We will need to think about the variety of learning modalities, venues and opportunities that will support a shared vision for ACCESS Franklin County,” Fallon wrote.

Fallon pointed to the fact that many of the schools in the region face declining enrollment, as was outlined in the Special Commission on Rural School Districts’ report.

“The small size of many of our rural schools necessitates a regional response to sustain a Franklin County model of early college, and we look forward to building upon the school partnerships we have across the county,” she wrote.

Currently, access to early college credits is limited to students who have the financial resources to pay for dual enrollment courses, or those students who have been able to access grant- and donor-funded programs. ACCESS Franklin County is designed to increase equity for students.

“We have an opportunity to create a model particular to the unique nature of living in rural western Massachusetts,” Fallon wrote. “ACCESS Franklin County will provide a complete shift in the paradigm by increasing access to early college credits for all students.”

As part of the pilot program, eighth graders at Mohawk Trail Regional School will plan and develop civic action projects with real-world applications in a college setting, and with access to outside speakers and resources. Additionally, GCC is looking to develop early college and career opportunities for Mohawk Trail freshmen alongside the school’s existing curriculum. Plans for grades 10 through 12 have not been created yet.

“We are very excited about the development of this program as we continue to address the issues of educating students in smaller, rural, declining enrollment districts.” Fallon concluded. “We believe that building partnerships with our local educational institutions allows us all to expand our offerings and enrich our students’ experiences.”

Since 2017, the Baker-Polito Administration has undertaken a statewide effort to expand early college options to increase the number of high school students who take college courses and earn credits at no cost before they graduate high school. The fiscal year 2023 budget signed by Gov. Charlie Baker included a significant increase to early college funding, bringing the total annual investment to more than $19 million.

There are now about 5,400 students enrolled in early college courses at 50 high schools across the state, according to the Executive Office of Education. The state anticipates that approximately 8,700 students will be enrolled in early college programs by the 2024-2025 school year.

“We’re proud to make these grants available to programs who are thinking critically about how to expand access to college courses for more high school students,” Education Secretary James Peyser said in a statement. “All students, and particularly those who have been historically underrepresented in higher education, deserve the opportunity to prepare for post-secondary education. These early college models will help more students have this opportunity.”

Bella Levavi can be reached at blevavi@recorder.com or 413-930-4579.


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