By STEVEN VIERA
HAZLET—This fall, a group of teenagers is doubling-down on freshman year by starting both high school and college at the same time.
Thanks to a partnership between Brookdale Community College and the Hazlet Township School District, six incoming students who will begin their freshman year at Raritan High School will have the opportunity to earn an associate’s degree, which would enable them to begin their junior year of college, by the time that they graduate from high school.
Christine Henry, Ricky Leonard-Sipe, Joshua Nichols, Jason O’Keefe, Noureen Qureshi and Tyler Shaughnessy will be the inaugural cohort of the Hazlet “Explorers”—named for the first satellite put into orbit by the United States—and go above and beyond their high school curriculum and begin working to complete a 60-credit associate’s degree in social sciences from Brookdale.
“The curriculum for the Explorer Program, as with all of the Early College High School programs, is carefully crafted and very prescribed to ensure that it meets the requirement for the high school diploma as well as Brookdale’s associate degree,” Brookdale’s Executive Dean of Higher Education Anita Voogt said.
During their freshman and sophomore years, the six students in the Explorer Program will take college courses on the grounds of Raritan High School. In their junior year, they will spend a half-day taking classes at Brookdale’s Northern Monmouth Higher Education Center in Hazlet, and in their senior year, they will spend a half-day at Brookdale’s Lincroft campus.
The Explorers will pay tuition for their Brookdale courses, but Voogt explained that completing an associate’s degree concurrently with their high school graduation could potentially save “thousands or tens of thousands of dollars” on the cost of a four-year degree.
Both Brookdale and the Hazlet Township School District hope that the program will expand in the coming years to reach a total enrollment of 25 students.
According to Hazlet’s Superintendent of Schools Dr. Bernard F. Bragen, the high school has worked with Brookdale for several years and has existing “dual enrollment” programs that give students the opportunity to take classes for college credit. The idea for the Explorer Program, however, came after Bragen learned of a similar initiative between Brookdale and Saint John Vianney High School in Holmdel.
“I thought, ‘If they can do it, why can’t we do it?’” he said.
The program was offered to students who graduated from eighth grade having completed the full course of Algebra I on the condition that they complete geometry online over the summer so that they could immediately enroll in Algebra II in the fall. By the end of that process, Bragen said, six students remained, and he praised them for their achievements and for taking on this new adventure.
“They’re the groundbreakers; they’re the ones that are laying the foundation,” he said. “I think that as other students look at them and see them succeeding, [the program] is going to grow.”