Athol High School chosen for Early College program

By MAX BOWEN

News Editor

Published: 03-22-2023 4:54 PM

ATHOL — Starting later this year, Athol High School students can get a head start on their college education.

Earlier this month, the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education granted the Early College designation to Athol High School for the start of the 2023-2024 school year, according to an announcement. Athol High School will partner with Mount Wachusett Community College and Fitchburg State University to provide this program for students. Athol High School is one of 59 high schools in Massachusetts to hold this designation.

Early College programs combine career and college exploration with the opportunity for students to earn a high school diploma and at least 12 college credits. The FY 24 budget proposed by Gov. Maura Healey includes $46.9 million for Early College and Innovation Pathways which constitutes a $14.4 million expansion over FY 23.

Athol-Royalston Regional School District Superintendent Matthew Ehrenworth said in a statement that he was thrilled about the news and credited the people involved. He said the program offers an opportunity they wouldn’t be able to experience otherwise. 

“Our goal is to provide ARRSD students with every opportunity possible - so that, after graduation, they are prepared to advance to any college or career that interests them,” he said.  

AHS Principal David King said the application process was a competitive one, with a submission and planning phase, along with interviews with state officials. He said the school had a strong application, with faculty involved in the planning process and taking into consideration what the students need to be successful.

In Early College programs, high school students take college courses with strong career orientations during the regular school day, at no cost to themselves or their families. They also receive academic and guidance support to assist them in the college coursework and environment.

“Students enrolled in the program will graduate from Athol High School with significant college credits, reducing the cost and time of degree completion at a college/university,” the announcement read. “Additionally, these students graduate with the proven confidence, habits and skills needed to be successful in college and career.”

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King said the next step will be to create promotional materials and distribute information about the program to students and families. The application process will begin in late April and notifications will be made in May to those accepted into the program.

“Once they’re in it, there will be a pathway for things in terms of coursework for them to be successful,” King said.

Eligible students include incoming ninth graders and all rising 10th through 12th-graders. Freshmen and sophomores accepted to the program will review its parameters and build an understanding of their goals, according to King. Juniors will take two college and two high school classes at AHS. Seniors will be fully immersed in the program and take classes at Mount Wachusett Community College. King said that a high school counselor will be on-site to check in with them.

“We have seen Early College help hundreds of students earn college credits, and even associate degrees, since the inception of these programs,” noted MWCC President James Vander Hooven. “We look forward to welcoming the students of Athol and Royalston to the MWCC Early College community.”

Classes taken through the Early College program will count toward both high school graduation requirements and college credit. King said the final list of classes hasn’t been finalized, but would include English writing, math statistics, psychology and sociology. Others will be available to help align with the students’ chosen profession.

“We’re looking to make this available to any student who wants it,” King said. “That’s our commitment.”

Max Bowen can be reached at mbowen@recorder.com or 413-772-0261, ext. 265.

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