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Last updated: Mon. Aug. 11, 2014 - 01:57 am EDT

Homestead to bring college life to seniors

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Many high school seniors are old enough to vote and old enough to go to war but sometimes are not treated as adults.

Southwest Allen County Schools wants to change all of that.

Homestead High School officials are developing a one-of-a-kind Senior Experience program where 12th-graders will be treated more like adults and given more responsibility, flexible scheduling and an atmosphere that will mimic a college campus but with adult supervision.

If all goes as planned, in a few years, seniors could acquire a two-year associate degree by the time they graduate from Homestead. There would also be a student union-type room with wireless study stations, TV, coffee, beverage and snack bars, and lounge areas where seniors could kick back or study between classes.

The Senior Experience pilot program will kick off this year with five college courses to be offered on the Homestead campus.

The unique program is a work in progress, conceived and designed by the Homestead principal, Park Ginder, and assistant principal, Steve Lake.

They do not have a model to work from since they can't find another program like the one they have in mind, Ginder said.

The pair visited some high school senior programs in the Indianapolis area last year but have yet to find a comparable one.

“We have not seen anyone else who is doing this,” Ginder said.

Former SACS superintendent Steve Yager, who retired this summer, was supportive of the program, Ginder said.

Ginder and Lake have been working on the program for more than a year.

They met with Homestead graduates last fall and gleaned their ideas for creating a workable program.

“We want to increase the relevancy of the students' senior year,” Ginder said. “What should be their most important year has become the least important.”

Some seniors who already have enough credits to graduate are forced to take needless classes simply to fill in a full-day schedule, he said.

Homestead offers 60 different dual-credit classes (high school and college accredited), but because schools revolve around a seven-period day, seniors must often take filler classes and are stuck in a typical full-day school schedule, Ginder said.

Mimicking college schedules, this year's college offerings of English W-131, speech, physics, government and psychology will be offered two days a week, each one consisting of two periods or just over 90 minutes.

More than 125 of the school's 570 seniors will take the college courses the first semester and 79 will participate in the spring.

'An awesome idea'

Brie Bramel, 17, is taking English W131 two days a week, allowing her to attend school for only three periods on Mondays and Fridays.

“This will free me up to take a class at Ivy Tech and work at my job at the Kroger Marketplace in Coventry,” Bramel said. At the end of the first semester, Bramel will have six college credits through Ivy Tech and two through Homestead's English course.

“This is an awesome idea,” Bramel said. “It allows me to receive college credits at no where near what it would cost to get them at college.”

Her younger sister Bridget, is a freshman at Homestead, and Bramel said she hopes the program expands and grows as planned.

“I really hope she gets the full opportunity of the senior experience, because it's an astounding program,” Bramel said.

A Homestead teacher for eight years, Sarah Imbody will be teaching the W131 English class.

“I am really excited about this,” Imbody said. “I think it will be so beneficial for the seniors taking dual-credit classes to have a campus experience.”

The longer class periods will be helpful, as well, especially since there is a heavy concentration on composition and writing, she said.

Imbody will have one group of students on Mondays and Wednesdays and a different group on Tuesdays and Thursdays.

Friday mornings she will offer office hours for individual consultations with students.

“That one-on-one time is really important, especially when it comes to writing assignments,” Imbody said.

Imbody has a master's degree in English with a writing concentration, and this is the third year she has taught college English at Homestead.

“The program just keeps growing,” she said. “The first year I had two sections; this year I will have five.”

A growing movement

With the new program and the dual credit classes he has already taken, senior Sam Carroll will have about 10 college credits when he graduates in the spring.

“The thing I like about the program is the ability to acquire high school and college credits at the same time,” Carroll said.

The scheduling has freed him up enough to investigate internship possibilities, he said.

Paul Bojrab, 18, has family members who work in the medical field and he, too, is planning a career in medicine.

He will take advanced speech classes on Tuesdays and Thursdays, each lasting 1 1/2 hours.

The new schedule has freed him up to do an internship at Huntington Parkview in the surgical department, he said.

“This new program enables me to take the classes I need for college and not just filler classes or ones I don't really need,” Bojrab said.

He is excited about the program, he said.

“This is great for kids in the future,” he said, referring to his younger sister, Natalie, a sophomore.

“There will probably be more classes available and it will really benefit her,” Bojrab said.

The school district has partnered with Ivy Tech and IPFW, which is part of a growing movement among high schools, Lake said.

Colleges are looking for good kids to recruit and talking to them even before their junior year, he said.

The program will be tweaked along the way, he said.

“We will be checking with the students and seeing how to improve the situation,” Lake said.

The scheduling will give the students a lot more flexibility, although Lake candidly admits that creating the schedule has been tough.

“It's a modified schedule inside of a regular schedule,” he said.

The pilot program is being offered only to seniors, but that could change.

“There are no underclassmen until we have the bugs worked out, but down the road, we could see a mix in these classes,” Lake said.

If the program proves successful, Ginder and Lake have already talked about converting some unused rooms in the nearby building to a student union hall of sorts.

At one time the freshman academy behind the high school housed a sixth-grade wing, but now many of the rooms are vacant or used for storage, Ginder said.

Students could take classes in the high school and walk a short distance across campus to visit the student union center between classes, he said.

A higher education cost-savings is just one of the opportunities offered by the Senior Experience, Ginder said.

“The seniors will have a lot more opportunities to act as adults, to practice time management and to have a college level academic experience with guidance and support,” Ginder said.

“We want to simulate the transition for them.”

Ginder hopes to attract the students who are not the traditional high fliers and show them how things will work on a college campus.

“Our vision is to instill confidence and show them that they can make it in college,” he said.

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