Program gives students a head start

ESCANABA — High school students from Escanaba, Bark River-Harris, Big Bay de Noc, and Mid Peninsula, have a chance to get a head start on their careers, thanks to an agreement each school district made with Bay de Noc Community College. The 13-year program is called Early Middle College (EMC).

Delta-Schoolcraft Intermediate School District (DSISD) also participates by running a Career and Technical Education-Early Middle College (CTE-EMC), which the majority of its students can participate in.

EMC is a program that allows a student to earn a high school diploma while achieving at least one of the following: an associate degree, a Michigan Early Middle College Association technical certification, up to 60 transferable college credits, or participation in a registered apprenticeship, pre-apprenticeship, or apprentice readiness program. When a student opts into the EMC program, a five-year curriculum is created for the student with an advisor. The five-year curriculum shows what classes the student will take while in school, and in the 13th year at Bay College. The 13th year of schooling at Bay College is free of charge to the student. Students who decide to take advantage of the EMC program can enroll starting their freshman year, into the beginning of their junior year.

“Because we’re a new program that started last May, the state made an exception for us and the kids that graduated last June were able to opt into the Early Middle College program and take advantage. We have just over 60 students going to Bay now, who graduated last June. The seniors in it this year, opted in last October,” said Escanaba Area Public Schools Superintendent Coby Fletcher.

Mid Peninsula School District also started the EMC program last May. Superintendent Eric VanDamme said the program is going great in their school district.

For a school district to become an eligible participant in the EMC program, the district first makes an agreement with a community college, and then fills out an application that is sent to the Michigan Department of Education (MDE). The MDE reviews the submitted material from the school district and approves the application, or advises the school district what changes need to be made before they can continue with the program.

School districts receive funding from the state to pay for students’ tuition, books, and fees while at Bay College. The school district can use any minimal funding left over for their own administrative costs.

Each Escanaba middle and high school student has an educational development plan that is reviewed every year. The plan sets a path of course work for the student. The MDE requires all EMC students to have a five-year plan.

“Every student has to have an educational development plan, and an EMC student has to have a five-year plan. That five-year plan is much more specific. It says, this is what I’m looking at studying, and these are the courses I’m going to take, leading up to the 13th year, and it shows the courses I’m going to take in the 13th year,” said Fletcher. “It can be revised and reviewed. The plan is not set in stone. We leave room for kids to develop their interests.”

Not only do the students benefit from the program, but the community as well.

“The early middle college program removes financial barriers that families face when they are pursuing higher education. With the continually rising costs of a college degree, programs such as ours will help relieve some of the burden. One of our biggest goals is to improve access to college for all students at our school,” said Escanaba High School Student Services Coordinator Katie Curtis.

The program offers support to students that traditional college students do not receive.

“Both Escanaba High School and Bay College have personnel dedicated to connecting the students to resources on campus and in the community. Many students struggle with the transition from high school to college. We gradually increase the students’ time on campus throughout high school,” said Curtis.

All EMC students are moved to a five-year track, personalized to their needs after they decide to opt into the program.

“The early middle college program is designed around the end goal of the student,” said Curtis. “For example, a student may decide to pursue a program such as nursing, a welding certificate or a degree to transfer to a four year institution. The individual plan is designed to optimize traditional dual enrollment options with the fifth year to help the student maximize credits toward the end goal. Our community will surely benefit from students who are educated and have specialized skills without the extreme debt that can come with the training.”

Bay College develops programs that help the economy regionally. They see regional needs and find ways to fill them by working with school districts.

“Early middle college started about two or three years ago,” said Dr. Matthew Barron, vice president of academic affairs at Bay College. “We provide dual enrollment to schools and Early Middle College seemed the next logical step.”

Barron said the course work students have to choose from is relatively unlimited.

The Dual Enrollment and Early Middle College Coordinator at Bay College, Ashley Rogers, is excited to be part of EMC and to provide students the opportunity to receive credit toward a career while going to high school.

“Seeing the excitement on the faces of students as we plan their fifth year in the program… is rewarding for both the student as well as our institution,” said Rogers. “We are looking forward to the future expansion of more programs and partnerships.”

Nina Kregelka, a junior at Escanaba High School, opted into the EMC program to get a head start on her planned medical career. Kregelka enjoys the nursing classes she has available to her before graduating.

Another junior at Escanaba High School, Gabby Beauvais, opted in through the DSISD’s program, CTE-EMC, to get a certificate in welding. After completing high school and a year at Bay College she will have earned her welding certificate to start her career. Beauvais loves the course work and is one of the only girls in the welding coursework.

“It (early middle college) gives us an opportunity to focus on a kid’s education in a meaningful way, beyond high school,” said Fletcher. “It allows us to provide a little more definition to what we do and to what those kids do, and I think we all benefit from that.”