Pathways to Success

Pry Family Quilt

New Partnership between Washington County Public Schools and Hagerstown Community College offers students a pathway to success. 

The Blueprint for Maryland’s Future Act is a landmark, generational piece of legislation intended to enhance and improve the state and local investment in, and school system operation of, Maryland’s public school system and each of the schools within the 24 local school systems on behalf of each of our nearly 1 million Pre-k through grade 12 students. This 235-page bill, unprecedented in thoroughness, ambition, and cost, contains the policy and funding recommendations of the Kirwan Commission on Innovation and Excellence in Education.

The Blueprint for Maryland’s Future Act is often referred to as the Kirwan legislation. This legislation was drafted by William Britt Kirwan, the chancellor of the university system of Maryland, who chaired a group of educators and lawmakers who drafted it.

Included in the characteristically lengthy bill is some very big news regarding school aged children from Pre-K through high school. 

Every county in the state is doing things differently when it comes to implementing the Blueprint Law.

One of the things Washington county is offering is an Early College Degree Program which allows high school juniors and seniors to take college courses and earn a two-year college degree while simultaneously earning their high school diploma. 

Students interested in college courses must qualify by taking a test at the end of the tenth grade to determine that they are college and career ready. If they are deemed ready, they can either stay at their high school and take AP (Advanced Placement) courses or IB (International Baccalaureate) courses, college courses, or they can go to the college and take classes there. The option to enroll in and attend Career and Technical Education (CTE) is also available.

The big story here is the fact that any qualifying student who wishes to complete college courses will now be able to do so at no cost to them. For the very first time, the public school system is now paying seventy-five percent of tuition for Early College students, and the college (HCC) is paying the other 25 percent. This financial benefit became available in the fall of 2022 and was announced just a bit too late for students to factor into their decision to register for fall 2022 or spring 2023 classes. Students (or their families) are currently responsible for any cost associated with books and fees. 

Starting in the fall of 2023 the public school system will continue to pay 75% of all tuition, while the remaining 25% will be paid by the college (HCC), and additionally, 100% of the book costs and any course fees will also be paid by the school system. This means that this Early College program is now going to be completely free to the qualifying students and their families. Students now have the opportunity to earn an Associate Degree at no cost while they are in still high school. Even for those high school students taking the AP and IB classes, exam fees will no longer be the responsibility of the students and their families.

Choosing to take college courses has historically required students to physically attend classes at the campus. However, many students in Washington county do not have a car or live in areas where mass transportation is not an option.  

Dr. Gary Willow, Associate Superintendent for Curriculum and Instruction at WCPS is responsible for the idea of teaching college courses on location at the high schools, allowing students who do not have access to the college campus to take advantage of this opportunity. After carefully going through the HCC catalog and many meetings with Dr. Warner, Dr. Willow identified five academic programs that he wanted to have available to all students in the high schools. Any qualified student will now have access to the following HCC academic programs: Business, Education, Cyber Security, General Studies, and Computer Science, without having to worry about transportation. As Dr. David Warner  HCC Vice President of Academic Affairs said, “Our county is not particularly wealthy, and it was very important to Dr. Willow that access this program would not be restricted to only the affluent families in the county, and I completely agreed.”

Dr. Gary Willow, WCPS Associate Super-intendent for Curriculum and Instruction says WCPS wants to be sure students have options within their high school buildings that can be tailored to everyone. 

Willow says, “Currently we have Early College Degree Program students who are out on the HCC campus all day working toward an early college degree.”

There are thirty-four ECDP students who will graduate this year with both their high school diplomas and an Associate degree from HCC. 

We met and spoke with a few of these students, all of whom are high school seniors spending their days at HCC. Grace Caudell of Williamsport High School is a 17-year-old full-time ECDP biology major, who plays on her school volleyball team, and has two part-time jobs. She says, “If you want to be in ECDP you have to be a student who is motivated and willing to learn time management because it’s a big step and it’s definitely challenging, but it’s a great opportunity.”

Caudell finished by saying, “I’m moving a few hours away to go to college, and I don’t feel nervous at all because I feel so acclimated to the college life now. I feel like I’m going to be totally fine because I know how to manage my time and know how to study.”

Seventeen-year-old ECDP student Lochlan Joyce of Boonsboro High School is double majoring in physics and math, plays ice hockey, and plans to transfer to a four-year college after graduation. Joyce explained that the first year in the program was an adjustment but after learning to manage his time better it all fell into place. “If you are thinking about the early degree program, you have to be prepared. It’s not all glamourous, easy, and fun. You must understand the workload and managing your time. All of us here have really had to work to be where we are, but it is paying off,” he says.

Ian Watts, an 18-year-old North Hagerstown High School senior is majoring in physics and math in the ECDP as well. He is extremely active in school sports as a member of the track, soccer, and tennis teams. Watts says he enjoys the way ECDP students blend in at HCC and are not differentiated from the regular college students. “I had the idea going in that this was more of a separate program, but coming here I realized that you’re just kind of there with everyone else. I like just getting to go to HCC as a normal student,” he said. 

Josef Ricafort, an 18-year-old Williamsport High School senior is an ECDP biochemistry major. He explained that in middle school he and the other students we spoke with were all approached by Teresa Thorn of HCC who introduced them to the idea of early college. Ricafort plans to go on to medical school after he completes his four-year degree.

Starting early to develop successful students is key. One of the ways that is being accomplished here in Washington county is through the Pre-K program. WCPS’ free Pre-K has helped to move Washington county’s kindergarten readiness ranking from a dismal second to last (23rd out of 24), in 2016 to fourth in the state as of December 2022. 

There are unlimited ways in which the county can serve its students from here on. Making the public aware of these revolutionary developments is step one. When parents of school age children learn about these new opportunities it could change a generation for the better.  

Willow says WCPS wants to be sure students have options within their high school buildings that can be tailored to everyone. “Washington county now has lot more dual credit opportunities available in the high schools that we haven’t had before. It is very exciting for the future of these kids and we expect a huge level of interest now that the news is getting out there,” he said. 

Hagerstown Magazine