Participants in Frederick Community College’s Early College Program talk to FCC Interim President Thomas Powell. From left Carson Gnuschke, Sophia Brusco, Agness Cawray, Alivea Apshago, Anna Frye, Kafui Ameko and Thomas Powell. The program allows students still enrolled in high school to attend college classes for credit. (Submitted photo)

FCC’s Early College Program allows high school students to get ahead on their college education

Hisham Virk of Frederick already has his eyes on the future.

While other 16-year-olds might still be figuring out their career and college goals, Hisham is already taking classes at Frederick Community College to prepare himself for life after high school.

Hisham is enrolled in FCC’s Early College Program that allows Frederick County Public School high school students the opportunity to earn their associate degree simultaneously with their high school diploma.

Getting an early start

The Early College Program helps ambitious students like Hisham get a head start on completing their required college credits and a fast track into the career field they are interested in, while still being able to take part in those high school activities and programs with their peers that generate precious memories for the future.

Virk plans to transfer to University of Maryland after earning his associate degree in cyber security. He first heard about the program from an email sent by his high school encouraging those who were interested to take part in the program at FCC.

Dual Enrollment and Early College Coordinator, Andrew McClain, described how the program was made to “meet the demands of the community” as many high school students felt the traditional framework was holding them back.

According to McClain, May 2022 will see the first graduating class from FCC’s Early College Program. There are currently 15 seniors and 25 junior high school students enrolled in the program. The maximum number of students who are able to enroll is 25; McClain hopes the number of students will be expanded in the near future.

He also believes the program can be improved with additional financial support for the students who take part.

“There is a dual enrollment discount on credit courses in place, but the students need more in order to make the program more equitable and accessible,” he said.

The Early College Program at FCC stands out because “we offer almost any major to the enrollees,” said McClain.

High school encouragement

Emily Lombardi, 17, Frederick, is a second-year student at FCC and senior in high school who is thinking of transferring to UMD or St. Mary’s College of Maryland majoring in psychology.

Emily also heard about the Early College Program after it was advertised by her high school, both through email and a meeting for parents whose children were interested in putting in the extra work to get an early start in college.

Why the Early College Program at FCC?

Virk said he was motivated to join the program by his desire to get ahead in college and “kill two birds with one stone” by earning his associate degree at the same time as his high school diploma.

Similarly, Emily thought the program sounded like “a good opportunity to get ahead on earning her college credits,” she said.

“FCC is close to where I live so it also seemed like a very convenient option for me,” she said.

The transition to college life

Virk’s transition into college learning has been a positive experience so far. Having started FCC in August 2021, he has been enjoying “getting back into face-to-face learning after having virtual classes at high school,” he said.

The only struggle Virk has faced with juggling college and high school at the same time is attending sporting events and FCC classes and homework.

“The timings can be a little rough sometimes,” he said.

However, he has really enjoyed the early college experience so far.

“It has been really fun. There are a lot of cool people involved with the program and the classes have not been too hard. But you’ve got to put the work in,” he said.

Emily has had a more difficult transition into college work as her classes were online during her first few semesters.

“The online classes with no scheduled meetings with the professor were difficult because it made it difficult to communicate with professors and peers,” she said.

However, Emily said returning to in-person classes this semester has been helpful and has had a great impact on her work.

“I have been pretty lucky so far as I have still been able to attend swimming events at high school and balance FCC work without much trouble,” Lombardi said.

Lessons learned

From the Early College Program, Emily is hoping to get ahead on her work and “begin to adjust to college life by learning about it and getting accustomed at a younger age,” she said.

“Joining this program has been the best decision I could have made. The benefits we get from the program and the students I have met have made it a great experience,” Emily said. “The class experience has been better than those at my high school because everyone seems more mature.”

Emily praised the dual enrollment and early college staff for being so welcoming and helpful.

“They have helped a lot of us structure our career paths so we know what to do after FCC,” she said. “I would recommend looking into the program to any students who are interested.”

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