Baker learns Durfee students praise early college curriculum

FALL RIVER — Students at BMC Durfee High School told Governor Charlie Baker how their school’s beginning college program helped them earn free college credits and take charge of their future during a panel discussion with him and other high school state officials on Monday.

“Really, starting college was a game-changer for Fall River and our schools,” said Acting Superintendent of Schools Maria Pontes.

Lieutenant Governor Karyn Polito, Massachusetts Secretary of Education James Peyser, Mayor Paul Coogan and Durfee Principal Matt Desmarais took part in the discussion with Pontes, Baker and 11 Durfee students.

Unlike dual-enrollment college classes, which typically take place in the evening after high school students have finished their classes, early college classes take place during the day as part of the students’ normal schedule.

Durfee students currently have the option of taking early college courses at Bristol Community College and Bridgewater State University.

Fall River Mayor Paul Coogan, Lt. Governor Karyn Polito and Governor Charlie Baker listen to students talk about the school's early college program in Durfee on Monday.

The high school plans to roll out an early college pilot program next year with UMass Dartmouth, which would make it the first high school in the state to offer an early college program with three different colleges.

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Durfee is the only school on the South Coast to offer an officially state-designated early college program, although New Bedford High School hopes to launch a similar program soon.

Carlos Marcano, a Durfee senior, said he was initially hesitant about the early college program and planned to take AP classes instead. He was worried at first that college classes would be too much of a commitment, but he’s glad he took the plunge, he said.

Now he has taken college courses in subjects like English, marketing, journalism and psychology. He said he appreciated the opportunity to earn free university credits, to bond with other Durfee students at the start of the university program and to build relationships with university staff. Next year he will be attending Bridgewater full-time as a marketing specialist.

“With long-term commitment comes long-term benefits,” he said.

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Several students said that their participation in the program convinced them to plan their college education after finishing high school. Ashtosh Bhandari, a senior on the Bristol scheme, said he moved to the United States last year.

Durfee student Ashtosh Bhandari speaks to Governor Charlie Baker about his experience early in the college program at a high school event on Monday.

“To be honest, I didn’t think college would be within my reach,” he said.

He also weighed the possibility of going to university after a gap year. But when a Durfee counselor steered him towards the first university program, he found a new perspective. He was recently accepted to Boston University.

The first college program was how he made his first two friends in the United States, Bhandari said.

“It really helped me connect with people,” he said.

Durfee students enrolled in the program also benefit from additional supports built into their curriculum to help them navigate the next experience of taking university courses, with lessons on things like reading a university syllabus and how to communicate. with a teacher.

Durfee student Carlos Marcano talks about the benefits of the early university program during a panel discussion in Durfee on Monday.

Lourraine Dayao, a senior taking classes at Bristol under the early university scheme, said the support makes a big difference to dual enrollment courses, which she did in first and second year. Because most of their classes are made up entirely of Durfee students, the professors don’t assume they know how to do things like create AP quotes.

“There’s a lot more support and it’s a lot more geared towards high school students,” she said.

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Baker praised the program as a way for students to test whether they want to attend college and reduce the amount of student debt they might otherwise have to carry. He said he wants next year’s state budget to include significant funding for early college programs. Currently, about 50 of the state’s more than 260 public high schools offer an early college program.

“If it were up to me, this thing would be available in every school in Massachusetts,” he told the students. “You’re basically helping us believe in a program that the Lieutenant Governor and Secretary of Education and I were already pretty confident about.”

Audrey Cooney can be reached at [email protected]. Support local journalism by purchasing a digital or print subscription to The Herald News today.

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