‘This is full-time college’Mahar programs offer students unique opportunities

  • Students conduct peer reviews in an English 101 class at Mount Wachusett Community College as part of the Pathways program run by Ralph C. Mahar Regional School in Orange, taught by Katherine Smith Wednesday. Recorder Staff/Matt Burkhartt—Matt Burkhartt

  • Oliver White, of Lunenburg, works in an English 101 class at Mount Wachusett Community College as part of the Pathways program run by Ralph C. Mahar Regional School in Orange, taught by Katherine Smith Wednesday, November 30, 2016. Recorder Staff/Matt Burkhartt—Matt Burkhartt

  • Rebecca Schlier, of Westminster, in Career Planning and Placement (CPT) 110, taught by Sharmese Gunn, at Mount Wachusett Community College as part of the Gateway program run by Ralph C. Mahar Regional School in Orange Wednesday, November 30, 2016. Recorder Staff/Matt Burkhartt—Matt Burkhartt

  • Jareth Skelton, of Leominster, in Career Planning and Placement (CPT) 110, taught by Sharmese Gunn, at Mount Wachusett Community College as part of the Gateway program run by Ralph C. Mahar Regional School in Orange Wednesday, November 30, 2016. Recorder Staff/Matt Burkhartt—Matt Burkhartt

  • Joey Lehtomaki, of Athol, peer reviews a classmate's paper in an English 101 class at Mount Wachusett Community College as part of the Pathways program run by Ralph C. Mahar Regional School in Orange, taught by Katherine Smith Wednesday, November 30, 2016. Recorder Staff/Matt Burkhartt—Matt Burkhartt

  • Ravin Blanchard of Orange and Jeremy Falls of Dunstable work together in an English 101 class at Mount Wachusett Community College on Wednesday. Recorder Staff/Matt Burkhartt

  • Students conduct peer reviews in an English 101 class at Mount Wachusett Community College as part of the Pathways program run by Ralph C. Mahar Regional School in Orangeon Wednesday. Recorder Staff/Matt Burkhartt

  • Angela Nicoli of Clinton is a student in Career Planning and Placement (CPT) 110 taught by Sharmese Gunn, at Mount Wachusett Community College as part of the Gateway program. Recorder Staff/Matt Burkhartt

Recorder Staff
Published: 12/1/2016 2:35:30 PM

ORANGE — Students are not cookie-cutter learners.

What works for one won’t necessarily work for another. That’s why the Ralph C. Mahar Regional School District operates Pathways Early College Innovation School and Gateway to College, separate programs catering to high school-age students interested in a different academic experience.

Pathways enables 11th- and 12th- graders to get an early start on college by simultaneously earning high school graduation credits and credits toward an associate’s degree. Gateway to College serves as a safety net for at-risk students who may have dropped out of high school for any number of reasons. Both programs are held at Mount Wachusett Community College in Gardner.

“It’s a maturing experience. I learn about the real world. … and grab some college credits along the way,” Gateway student Jareth Skelton said. “It’s an opportunity to do something different.”

Both programs are available to students who live in member towns of the Mahar school district and those who enter into it through School Choice. Each has roughly 40 Mahar students currently enrolled. Cheri Hoyle, a Mahar guidance counselor and the Gateway to College and Pathways Early College Innovation School liaison, said most students are recommended to the programs by a guidance counselor or teacher, though the programs are becoming increasingly sought out by students.

Hoyle said the programs include students from various towns throughout Franklin and Worcester counties, though they are from “commutable distances.” There are students from towns such as Orange, Athol, Winchendon, Hubbardston, Blackstone and Methuen.

“If you live in Winchendon and want to School-Choice into Mahar’s Pathways program, the community of Winchendon sends along $5,000 — 95 percent of that goes directly to Mount Wachusett,” Hoyle explained, adding that 5 percent goes to Mahar.

Lilac Keenan, a 16-year-old Pathways student and former Gardner resident who recently moved to Fitchburg, said much time was wasted by faculty at her initial high school and focus was given to troublemakers.

“I didn’t really have a good time in high school. I didn’t really, I guess, fit in,” she said, taking a minute to speak in a class taught by Katherine Smith recently. “This program is much more fast-paced and … you run your own schedule, and that’s something that really drew me into the program.

“I really like it,” she added. “And you meet a lot of really cool people who are a lot like you.”

Keenan said she heard about Pathways through former students and then did her own research on the program. The 11th-grader said she is interested in pursuing nursing after graduation, though she also enjoys film and fashion.

Hoyle said the majority of Pathways students go on to four-year colleges, with 80 percent doing so in 2016. One hundred percent of the graduating class of 2017, she said, are projected to go to four-year colleges, including Boston University, Virginia Tech, Penn State University, Smith College, and Bentley University. Students must have at least a 3.0 grade-point average to enroll in Pathways.

Hoyle said Pathways began in 2010 with seed money from a grant from the state Department of Elementary and Secondary Education.

Mahar Superintendent Tari Thomas said feedback is incredibly positive.

“Parents are just very appreciative, not only of the opportunity, but the way in which the program stretches students academically as well as socially. A lot of these students in Pathways are really high-achieving kids, that are ready to chomp on a lot of stuff. And, for one reason or another, their local high school wasn’t meeting their needs,” she said. “So this really enriches, extends, stretches the kids.”

Twelfth-graders enrolled in Pathways graduate in the springtime, when they also receive their high school diplomas.

Pathways Director Natalie Mercier said the application pool has grown every year since she arrived in 2012. She said the program is going strong with no signs of slowing. She also said other schools contact her on a regular basis to ask how the program works. She also said she constantly get phone calls and emails from alumni inquiring about letters of recommendation for master’s and doctoral programs throughout the country.

She said many Mount Wachusett instructors and professors are surprised Pathways student are high school age.

“This isn’t getting your feet wet — you’re swimming with the sharks at this point,” she said outside a classroom. “This is full-time college.”

Mercier said the students this week were presenting projects in which they interviewed a professional who has the student’s dream job. She said the professionals included scientists, business owners, nurses and police officers.

Gateway

Skelton, an 18-year-old Leominster resident, said Gateway is a fantastic opportunity for students and he cannot imagine being anywhere else at this point in his academic career.

Hoyle said Gateway provides a second chance to students who dropped out due to poverty, pregnancy, bullying, medical issues, academic struggles or other reasons. The program is part of a larger, national network.

Mindy Martin, a 17-year-old former Athol resident who now lives in Baldwinville, said friends recommended Pathways to her.

Eden Shaveet, 19, of Hubbardston, said she dropped out of high school at 14 and Gateway enabled her to enroll at 18. She plans to graduate with an associate’s degree in liberal arts and sciences. She is also a blogger for the Gateway to College National Network. Her blog can be found at bit.ly/2gm27xS.

At 2 p.m. on this past Wednesday, Gateway students were in Career Planning and Placement 110, taught by Sharmese Gunn, discussing the poetry slam scheduled for Dec. 7. Gunn said Gateway students organize many community- and culture-related campus events.

You can reach Domenic Poli at: dpoli@recorder.com or 413-772-0261, ext. 258.
On Twitter: @DomenicPoli


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