Three Rivers Middle College is thriving in its first year
By Janice Steinhagen - Staff Writer
Norwich - posted Mon., Feb. 18, 2013
President Barack Obama’s State of the Union speech resonated with special significance for staff and students at Three Rivers Middle College High School. Issuing “a new challenge to redesign America’s high schools so they better equip graduates for the demands of a high-tech economy,” the president cited models in other countries where students graduate high school with both a diploma and an associate degree.
Here in Norwich, TRMCHS students won’t have a full degree when they graduate, but they will be well on their way to one. The high school, opened just last fall, is offering the equivalent of six college credits per semester to its 33 juniors and seniors.
It’s different from the more standard Advanced Placement model offered in many high schools, said Principal Brad Columbus. Though the content in a chemistry class, for example, might be similar to AP content, “it’s taught by a college professor in a college setting. They get three college credits for it, but it counts as high school credit as well. We’ve got kids taking business accounting, early childhood education, intro to studio art… all kinds of different courses based on their interests.”
“I absolutely love it,” said Kortney Kirschner. A junior from Montville, she has experienced a wide range of school models – public, private, charter and home-schooling – and has found this environment to be a perfect fit. “It’s a new environment for me, a more mature environment,” she said. Students voted on a code of honor, on the school mascot name and school colors. “Every student gets their voice heard. That’s a different and enjoyable aspect of this school,” she said.
The fact that middle college students are older – it accepts only juniors and seniors – means that there’s a stronger focus on academics and long-term goals, said Columbus. “Everybody’s here because they want to be and they want to learn,” he said. Twenty of the middle college students made honor roll last semester, he said.
There’s also less stereotyping of classmates, said Kirschner. Instead of being stuck in social roles that date from ninth grade, “it’s a chance to start over fresh,” she said.
Luke Lucovich, of Stonington, said that the school’s small size and strong faculty gives it “a good vibe. There’s no drama. You get more attention, you can ask questions.” He plans to transfer to a four-year college after graduation, but Columbus said many TRMCHS students plan to stay at Three Rivers to complete their associate degree.
Angel Sanca, of Griswold, was also home-schooled and attended a faith-based high school, but said he finds more academic challenge at TRMCHS. “I’m taking college classes for the opportunity to see what I can do,” he said. “You can try stuff without paying $400 [in tuition].” He’s taking the same world architectural history class his father took. “Now there’s a competition to see who gets the better grade,” he said.
Students at the middle college don’t pay for books or college tuition; the fees are paid by the sending town, making it an attractive option economically, said Columbus. While the middle college requires a step outside the typical high school setting, “we try to do high school stuff” like fun field trips and a prom, he said. A few organized visits to local four-year colleges are in the works as well, he said. Students can still compete on their town’s sports teams; Ledyard has an agreement to accept TRMCHS athletes if their town’s high school team will not accept them, he said.
“The students are treated like adults,” said Jim Harnois, a special education consultant at TRMCHS and a 30-year veteran educator. “They have the respect of the staff and they return that respect. It’s fulfilling for me and I know its fulfilling for the students.”
Columbus said the school plans to double in size next year and is already out recruiting its next crop of students. The first graduation will take place this spring. “It’s a great opportunity for a kid, especially a first-generation college student or a kid who just wants to get after it,” he said.