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Early college experience caused gaps for some high school seniors

It's a program that encourages students to strive for academic excellence, to achieve well beyond the parameters of a traditional high school class.

And for the most part, seniors in Pinellas County's Early College Program, which allows students to take college courses and earn an associate's degree from St. Petersburg College to hang beside their high school diploma, say that's exactly what they've done for the past two years.

But students at Tarpon Springs and East Lake high schools, set to graduate this week, say the program hasn't been without challenges. Some contend they've missed out on scholarship opportunities, been left out of the loop when it comes to time-honored traditions like prom and homecoming, and haven't received the recognition they deserve from their alma mater.

It's as if their high schools simply forgot about them, they say.

But administrators maintain they've done everything they can to connect with a group of students who spend most of their time off campus, pointing to scores of students who sailed through the program without a complaint. About 20 graduating seniors at each school — East Lake and Tarpon — take classes at SPC.

"It's almost one or the other — people that think that (the program) is just falling apart and other people who are up here literally with tears in their eyes, thanking you for what you've done," said Clint Herbic, principal at Tarpon Springs High.

One of the primary complaints: Some students say they were never notified of resources that their classmates had easy access to.

East Lake senior Sammy Qureshi said he wasn't given dates for the homecoming game, the senior breakfast or prom.

Tarpon senior Karli Collins said she almost didn't receive her cap and gown in time for graduation because she wasn't given a form distributed to other students in homeroom.

"They told us we wouldn't miss anything. We missed a lot of stuff," Qureshi said. "It was just aggravating because I felt like I wasn't part of the high school anymore."

And scholarship information arrived either too late or not at all, they said — even though Tarpon High guidance counselor Artemis Kotis said she communicated regularly with SPC counselors and responded to students' questions.

"It was always me going after the information," said Rachel Crew, a senior at Tarpon. "The easily accessible information that the students at Tarpon received — we had to go digging for it. We don't have time for it."

At Tarpon's Senior Awards Night last week, Crew said, her name and those of several other students in the Early College Program were missing from the event's programs. Seated next to their families, they watched as students were called to the stage to accept scholarships they'd never heard of, Crew said.

"We really felt discouraged at the end of it and felt that it really wasn't fair," she said.

Herbic said it is the school's policy not to include the Early College Program and other specialized programs in the annual awards banquet.

"Even the kids who have these complaints are not knocking the program — in fact, they're praising it," he said. "They're mad because they didn't get a reward that they think they are entitled to."

Kotis, who organized the event for the first time this year, said she forgot to include the names of students who placed in the top 5 percent of the class, but reprinted programs and apologized personally to every student whose name she omitted.

She doesn't understand students' complaints — she did everything she could to keep lines of communication open, she said.

Jan Kessinger, guidance counselor for the Early College Program at St. Petersburg College, said she understands both students' frustration and the enormous workload placed on the schools' guidance counselors.

Kessinger, who supervises students from 16 Pinellas County high schools, said communication has always been something of an issue for the program. That's not to say that administrators aren't trying to improve the system, she said.

"We are all, on every level, doing the best job we can do for communication," she said. "And students have to share that responsibility as far as seeking out (information). It's not always going to be handed to them on a silver platter. And I think our kids are trying."

Early college experience caused gaps for some high school seniors 06/08/11 [Last modified: Wednesday, June 8, 2011 9:03pm]
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