Thought you left high school behind?

You could be sharing a classroom with students from FAUs own on-campus high school

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Thought you left high school behind?

Photo by Emily Creighton

Photo by Emily Creighton

Photo by Emily Creighton

Photo by Emily Creighton

Hope Dean, Contributing Writer

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At the FAU Boca Raton campus, a unique opportunity is presented to the FAU High students — an entire college education for free.

Through FAU High’s dual enrollment program, students can pursue their high school and FAU college degree simultaneously, while being exempt from payments of registration, tuition, laboratory fees and textbooks.

After their ninth grade year at the high school, students are free to choose a major and schedule classes at FAU as they please, but they must enroll in certain types of courses in order to fulfill mandatory high school requirements.

These high school credits are stretched throughout the student’s next three years of college at FAU, but they only take up a small percentage of their overall course schedule. The rest of their courses go toward either their major or their minor, with the rest simply being electives.

Hope Dean. Photo by Emily Creighton

They can also choose to finish their major early and graduate from college and high school at the same time. However, if they do not go down this path and stay at FAU for their fourth and final year after high school, FAU High will cover those costs as well.

Ninth graders aren’t thrown directly into a college environment right off the bat, however. Their first year at FAU High is spent on the Boca campus at the A.D. Henderson University Elementary and Middle School under a rigorous educational schedule to assure that they are ready to begin college the following year.

Michael Romega, a 15-year-old ninth grader at FAU High, said that he couldn’t ignore the opportunity to finish college before he turns 20.

“I went to A.D. Henderson [and] the teachers were like, ‘Raise your hand if you want to do college and high school at the same time.’ I raised my hand and went from there,” he said.

FAU High was started by the College of Education and school administrators at A.D. Henderson University School in 2004 to develop an innovative education opportunity for advanced high school students. Its first graduating class contained only eight students, but the school has been growing ever since, with the average class size now at 150.

Romega was accepted into the program in 2016. Out of 700 applicants, 136 were chosen.

Students applying for the school must take the Accuplacer, a college placement test that analyzes a student’s ability in reading, writing and math as well as the Writeplacer, the essay portion of the exam.

If the student receives the required scores  — 90 out of 120 for the Accuplacer and at least a 4 out of 6 for the Writeplacer — they are then invited to an interview with members of the Steering Community. The pool of students who make it that far are then hand picked and the next class is created.

A major concept surrounding FAU High students is the fact that, in some people’s eyes, they are missing out on the traditional college and high school experience. The students, as it turns out, don’t mind.

Camila Bravo. Photo by Emily Creighton

Tenth grade social work major Camila Bravo said, “I feel like the normal high school and college experience are definitely lost. I’m not going to [live in a] dorm room, not going to see my friends every day for four years. But honestly, I’m good. I have more opportunities here than I do anywhere else.”

Bravo also mentioned a strong bond that forms between the students.

“[You have] closer friendships, since you’re with the same 100 people in the same six classrooms doing the same work, getting the same amount of sleep. It brings people together,” she added.

A part of this bond stems from the similarity of being younger in a college environment, but even the ninth graders, who are not in college classes with older students yet, reported the same feeling of community.

Ninth grader and possible polyscience major Aher Hensley said, “We’re all connected together like an ecosystem.”

As for their relationships with the college students? At first, many of the incoming 10th graders had doubts.

Bravo said, “I was kind of nervous at first because I was afraid they would dislike me because of my age. But once I actually talked to the college students and found out we were at similar academic standings, I was much more confident.”

Geoffrey Stephen. Ryan Lynch | Business Manager

Geoffrey Stephen, a 10th grade biology major, was enthused to be around older students right from the beginning.

“I was very excited to be with college kids because of maturity … I was a little worried but it turned out to be better than ever. I feel [FAU High] gives me a lot but doesn’t take anything away,” he said. “It seems to stay the same but [is] in fact better than the drama involved in being part of a normal high school.”

Caterina Siciliano, a ninth grade teacher of college Spanish at FAU High, feels that these students are different than most.

“This is a university-level class, so it is taught from that perspective where there is more of a responsibility on the part of the student to come to class greater prepared for learning,” she said. “I think in this program, students really want to take that in because they know that’s what they’re going to be dealing with over in the university.”

Because of the FAU High’s emphasis on college preparation, ninth grade school days are fraught with hard work and the occasional sleepless night.

Ninth grader and potential polyscience major Benjamin Hayward said, “I mean, you’re getting all this exposure into the upper level, you’re going into college when you’re 16 … You have to do a lot more than you would in a traditional high school.”

Ninth grader Cari Corrales was drawn to FAU High after receiving a postcard in the mail inviting her to apply.

“Some days if you haven’t done your homework, you have to pull an all nighter. It really depends,” she said. “[But] you get to go to college, get your bachelor’s. You get time, instead of being in high school for four years.”

Neuroscience and behavior major and 11th grader Cassie Godbout said that despite the workload, the program is more than worth it as it gives her a head start on life.

“[FAU High] is getting me farther in life than a regular high school student,” she said. “A normal high school wouldn’t give me the opportunities to take extreme classes like organic chemistry …

I definitely like it because I can graduate with my bachelor’s degree if I do it right.”

FAU High math teacher Agnes Timar said that she does all that she can to ensure students are ready for taking college classes while still technically enrolled in high school.

“What I do is I use data, continuous formative assessment to see what [the students are] like, and I definitely differentiate instruction to make sure every single student is prepared for college by filling in those gaps,” she said. “For those who excel…I just take them to the next level and try to prepare them for skipping a few math classes at the university.”

“My philosophy is that some outsiders are afraid of FAU High, although we are not looking for ‘geniuses’ per-say,” Timar said. “It is hard work that will take you to the next level…hard work, and passion.”

While FAU High is focused on science, technology, engineering and math in nature, opportunities for students who excel in the arts still exist.

Savannah Marino, a 12th grader taking 17 credits, is pursuing her Bachelor of Fine Arts in theatre and is the co-president of FAU High’s International Thespian Society. This program has been included at the high school for the past four years, and some of the students involved have competed in the state level in the past two years.

Marino said, “I was accepted into the two arts high schools, G-Star and Dreyfoos, but I was accepted [to FAU High], and you can’t turn down free college.”

“Because this is what I’m doing for school, I get to do it every single day, nonstop. I’m here from 7 in the morning to 9 at night … I love it. We get to do the main stage productions here, which are productions in the Studio 1 Theatre,” Marino continued. “It also gives you ample opportunity to work tech, and I ended up really liking it.”

“I plan on taking everything I’ve worked here like stage management, acting and going into stage production in film. No matter what happens, I have a job,” Marino said of her plans for the future. “Even though FAU High doesn’t offer many opportunities for the arts, FAU does. This is where you learn stuff.”

Tayna Latortue, an 11th grade biology major, is taking 16 credits this semester.

One thing Latortue appreciates about taking university classes is the presence of a clear path.

“We actually focus on what we’re learning instead of [teachers] giving you papers to take up time … I get to focus on my major at a younger age,” she said.

While living the FAU High life may be busy and unusual for the average teenager, the students enjoy the freedom they are given to roam campus and schedule classes as they please. To keep this educational advantage and independence, they are willing to do whatever it takes to succeed.

“My plans are to go to med school hopefully and then become a dermatologist or gynecologist … If you want to be a doctor, you’ll probably be a doctor by the time you’re 30,” Latortue said. “Go to FAU High, you get to finish early … I can become a doctor at a younger age.”

Hope Dean is a contributing writer with the University Press. For information regarding this or other stories, email [email protected] or tweet her @hope_dean2017.