Connecticut High Schools to Expand College-Level Courses With Help of $3.8M State Grant


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High schools across the state are planning to expand the number of college credits they offer in career-focused pathways like manufacturing and health care, bolstered by $3.8 million from Connecticut’s remaining coronavirus relief funds.  

“Dual-credit courses enable students to earn college credits while still in high school, giving them a head start on their requirements to complete postsecondary education while also helping reduce the financial burden of higher education costs,” Gov. Ned Lamont said Tuesday in a statement. 

The grants are intended for additional pay for teachers to write curriculum and become certified to teach college-level courses, purchasing specialized technology related to health care or engineering, and outreach to students and their families to explain the benefits of taking these courses in high school. 

Many towns are looking to expand or create programs that provide opportunities in industries with shortages throughout the state and country — particularly manufacturing, early childhood education and health. Madison, Westbrook and Clinton, for example, plan to offer college-level classes in marine science, pastry arts and 3D printing technology, respectively. 

In Clinton, the funding will go toward a partnership that the district already has in place with Goodwin University to offer a series of engineering and manufacturing courses to high schoolers. The district also partners with local manufacturers to provide students with real-world internships. 

Marco Famiglietti, the assistant superintendent in Clinton, told CT Examiner that the $20,000 the district received from the state went toward upgrading the machinery in its engineering lab. 

“We felt it was best for us to use [the grant] to continue to add equipment to that lab that really makes it, what I would call, 21st century and industry standard lab experience,” he said. 

Famiglietti said there are currently 65 Clinton students enrolled in the advanced manufacturing pathway at the Morgan School. He also noted that Bausch Advanced Technologies, a local manufacturer who partnered with the district, has hired 15 graduates from the Morgan School. 

“When you’re talking about a graduating class of 130 kids, and you’re talking about a company that has only 150 employees, percentage wise, it’s a large number,” he said. 

Famiglietti also said the district was waiving registration fees for students qualifying for free or reduced lunches, and helping teachers in the manufacturing program improve their ability to work with non-English speaking students.

“We have a growing population of immigrant families in Clinton, and giving them access to these courses is important. But it’s also very challenging because [of] the technical nature of these courses and just the vocabulary that’s associated with engineering coursework is complex,” he said. 

In New London, Superintendent Cynthia Ritchie told CT Examiner that the district had over 30 high schoolers take classes in education, psychology, art and race, culture and ethnicity through Mitchell College and Connecticut College last year. The students’ tuition was paid using federal coronavirus relief dollars. 

With the state grant, she said, the district can certify educators to teach college courses through the University of Connecticut’s Early College Experience.

In a statement, UConn noted half of the districts who received the grant plan to use it primarily to offer more UConn courses, and that all of the districts had partnerships with UConn.

“We are excited to work alongside our state’s incredible educators and district leaders as they continue to expand access for students,” the statement read. 

The grants are also designed to attract students who might not normally enroll in college courses while in high school. 

While nearly a quarter of high school juniors and seniors earned at least three college-level course credits last year, those numbers differ widely based on race and socioeconomic status. About 28.5 percent of white students earned at least three credits last year, compared with about 17 percent of Black students and 16 percent of Latino students, according to state data.

Of students classified as “high needs” — those learning English, from low-income families or diagnosed with disabilities — only 14.5 percent enroll in at least three college-level course credits. 

Amity Goss, assistant superintendent for curriculum and instruction in Guilford, told CT Examiner she had seen the same patterns in her district. While about seven in 10 of Guilford’s high school students took a course that offered college credit, Goss said those students were mostly high academic achievers who already planned to go to college. 

“We’re missing an entire population of kids for whom college might not be so much of a sure thing,” Goss said. “They might be worried that their families can’t afford it. They might be thinking that they need to go and get a job right away, or they might be thinking that there would be other barriers to their attendance.” 

Goss said the district was looking at bringing more students into college-level courses on two fronts — firstly, by modifying courses that students already have to take, like algebra, U.S. history and biology, to allow for college credit. 

The second is by offering career-oriented courses like investing, accounting, drafting and design, and digital cinematography — courses that non-college-bound students were already gravitating toward. 

Goss said the digital cinematography course had a particular draw. 

“It’s actually one of the big courses that kids are connected with right now because they all see themselves as the next big YouTube star,” she said. 

If that dream doesn’t pan out, she said, the credit can go toward careers in industries like television, making commercials or creating videos for public or private institutions. 

East Lyme, which received about $50,000, is using the grant money to offer courses in English, public speaking and EMT through UConn. According to the application, the EMT course will cover topics like anatomy and physiology, trauma and how to handle medical emergencies. Students can also take the EMT certification exam at the end of the course. 

Mary Turano, a teacher in the East Lyme High School Science department and adjunct instructor at UConn, who is teaching the course, said the school was using the grant to purchase hands-on equipment like mannequins, stretchers, splints and an airway station with an oxygen tank and suctioning equipment where students learn to treat someone in respiratory distress. 

Turano, who currently has eight students in the class, said she gets an interesting mix. Some aren’t planning to go to college, and being an EMT gives them the skills to find a job right after high school, she said.

“They can go and walk directly into the workforce, going and filling those critical needs for emergency management technicians. They can walk directly into a career,” Turano said.

Others, she said, are interested in going to college for pre-health or pre-med, and want to work as EMTs on campus to fulfill their programs’ requirements for practical hours. 

Turano said she has been in contact with East Lyme Ambulance and would reach out to Lawrence and Memorial Hospital so the students could get practical hours. 

Madison is planning to transform three of its current classes — marine science, elementary statistics and digital photography — into courses that offer college credits through Southern Connecticut State University. Melanie Whitcher, assistant principal at Daniel Hand High School, said these three courses are general education courses, meaning they include students who might not be taking higher-level academic classes. 

Like Goss, Whitcher said the purpose of offering these courses was to show students who might be first generation or diagnosed with a disability that college is possible for them.

“It’s just kind of giving them the experience at a high school level, free of charge, exposes them to some college classes, and maybe piques their interest. Like, hey, maybe I will go in and try a two-year degree somewhere or a four-year degree somewhere,” she said. 

Whitcher said marine science can be a good foundational course for students interested in majoring in the sciences. And since an art class is required to graduate, she said, offering photography as a college-level course makes sense. 

While courses in business, health, education and manufacturing are obvious targets for college-level credit, some districts are thinking outside those lines. Westport is offering credits for anthropology and child psychology courses. While Westbrook, in addition to accounting and health-focused courses, is looking to certify a teacher through Goodwin University to offer a culinary arts course in pastry making.

“We believe we will be able to change student mindsets about college while also preparing them for the world of work in a field they are passionate about,” said Leslie Carson, the career/college readiness coordinator for Westbrook High School. 

Westbrook Superintendent Kristina Martineau told CT Examiner that the district was in the process of hiring multilingual tutors to assist students whose first language is not English. 

And in Middletown, the district proposed using part of its $60,000 grant to expand its three-course high school aerospace program, so it can offer a Drone Business Certificate through the Connecticut State Colleges and University system, in partnership with a local business called Aquiline Drones. The program will include hands-on experience at Brainard Airport, according to the application, and will also allow students to earn a drone pilot license through the Federal Aviation Administration. 

They are also proposing offering more advanced Spanish classes at a college level, and expanding visits to Yale, Wesleyan, UConn and the local community college.

Emilia Otte

Emilia Otte covers health and education for the Connecticut Examiner. In 2022 Otte was awarded "Rookie of the Year," by the New England Newspaper & Press Association.