Collegiate Stories

‘A hidden gem’: Collegiate Charter School seniors pioneer pilot dual enrollment program at MCC

LOWELL — When high school seniors Shiv Patel and Sotara Rorn were called down to the office Thursday afternoon, they weren’t expecting a surprise party.

But upon entering a room filled with representatives from both the Collegiate Charter School of Lowell and Middlesex Community College and seeing the big “congratulations” cake on the table, they put the pieces together.

Patel and Rorn, two of the 30-person senior class at the charter school, will be the first students to participate in MCC’s dual enrollment program, just months before they also make history as the school’s first graduating class.

“Well, surprise, surprise,” MCC board of trustees Chair Jim Campbell said with a laugh, as he handed Patel and Rorn their acceptance letters. “It’s my pleasure to be here today to present you these scholarships.”

Starting Jan. 23, the students will attend a course at MCC to receive college credit, which they can use toward a degree at another university. Rorn will be taking a psychology class, while Patel will study chemistry this semester.

After meeting for about a month, fortifying their plans to institute the program, charter school Director Adam Bakr said they settled on a pilot program he calls “dual enrollment lite”: sending over several students to the college to immerse in that atmosphere, be exposed to a rigorous education and prepare for their college careers.

While the school already offers Advanced Placement classes, which can also go toward college credit, Bakr said dual enrollment is a nice complement that helps “plant the seeds” and show students, including those who are first generation, that they can be “college ready.”

And Patel and Rorn are the perfect guinea pigs for such a program, he added.

“Every time we talk about our senior class, these two come to mind,” Bakr said, nodding to Patel and Rorn. “We’re excited to be able to have them continue to be pioneers, whether they know it or not.”

Coincidentally, Rorn and Patel both come from families of immigrants. Patel recently emigrated from England, and has only been at the Collegiate Charter School for a year. Rorn’s family moved from Cambodia several decades ago, and she will be the first person from her family to graduate college.

When asked how she’s feeling about pursuing higher education, Rorn said it’s “kind of scary,” since “no one else has done it before (her).” It was in ninth grade when Rorn got that “spark” of interest in psychology, and after joining student clubs, including the Student Life Organization, she was dead set on the subject.

“Once I joined that, I finally realized psychology was good for me,” she said, “and just being able to do the psychology class is another (part) of my future.”

Having shadowed a chemistry class at Collegiate Charter before, Patel said he’s equally excited to attend MCC and the experience it will offer him.

“Chemistry is my favorite science,” Patel said. “We did a chemistry class here, but I want to develop and understand college-level chemistry and get ahead.”

The program for both students is covered by the Commonwealth Dual Enrollment Partnership Grant, said MCC Assistant Admissions Director Kristie Faletra. It costs about $108 per credit this semester, Faletra said.

Campbell said about 1,500 students join their dual enrollment program in a given school year — that’s higher than enrollment at any other Massachusetts school, he added.

Patel and Rorn will be “entitled to the full privileges of the school,” including clubs, meetings, events and various campus activities, Campbell said, and their participation is “a golden opportunity,” since dual enrollment lowers the cost of tuition and reduces student debt.

He called the seniors “role models” and the program “a hidden gem.”

“It’s a wonderful program,” Campbell said, “and I hope that, through your example, that other parents and other students will take advantage of this, because it really is cost-saving… We’re looking forward to the moment that you step through our doors.”

Brian Chapman, a member of the boards of trustees for both MCC and the charter school, said the partnership is an important one, since both schools have a mission to bring the “best level of education to the city,” he said.

“The kids are fantastic… It’s a great environment,” Chapman said of CCSL. “It’s all about the kids and giving them the opportunity to excel.”

Patel applied as a biochemistry major at several schools and is now waiting for his acceptance letters with anticipation. Tufts University is the goal, he said.

Rorn plans to study psychology, likely at Simmons University, where she was recently accepted. It’s also “nerve-wracking” to be the first students to graduate from Collegiate Charter, she said, but her classmates and school family will be cheering them on.

“We know a lot of the students here because we are so small,” Rorn said. “The community, we all know each other, and everyone is just going to be excited for us.”

-Courtesy of the Lowell Sun

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