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Thoughts of fall _ 2005

Less than two months into its inaugural year, St. Petersburg Collegiate High School is recruiting students for the 2005-06 school year.

About 75 families turned out Sept. 14 for the first of three information meetings about Pinellas County schools' only charter high school, a joint venture of the school district and St. Petersburg College housed on SPC's Gibbs campus.

The charter school gives students the opportunity to receive a standard high school diploma and an associate of arts degree in the time they would normally graduate from high school. Tenth-graders take classes in a self-contained "superportable" while 11th- and 12th-graders take classes with SPC students.

Because SPCHS is chartered by the school district, there are no tuition or book fees.

Students have until Nov. 1 to apply for a seat in what has proved to be a popular program. Last spring, more than 300 ninth- through 11th-graders applied for 150 seats, necessitating a random computer lottery to determine who would get a spot for this year.

With all of the 11th- and 12th-grade seats already claimed for next year, only 30 seats are open for incoming 10th-graders. That means only current ninth-graders are being invited to apply during this application period.

One of the most frequently asked questions at last week's meeting was why the school is recruiting so early for next year.

"It is very early to begin thinking about making a change," said SPCHS principal Linda Benware. "My response to the parents was that I have been asked by the Pinellas County School Board to coordinate my recruitment process with theirs."

While the charter school has aligned its application period to the district's, its actual application process is different, hence the information meetings. Parents must attend one and complete an application included in an introductory packet. The application must be returned to the school no later than Nov. 1.

If more than 30 students apply, their names will be entered into a lottery. Those who are selected will be notified by mail before Dec. 1. They will have until Dec. 10 to accept their invitations.

"After the winter holidays, we will contact the students and begin to set up one-on-one counseling opportunities," Benware said. "We will begin registering students for classes in May or early June."

At the information meeting, Benware emphasized a risk that all high school students take when they apply to a different school, including the collegiate high school, during the choice application period.

By School Board policy, those in magnet or career academy programs will lose their seats in those programs at the end of the current school year, whether or not they are selected for the collegiate high school. Those in traditional high school programs will lose their seats at the end of the current year only if they accept a seat in the collegiate high school during the Dec. 1-10 acceptance period.

Erik Scott, who applied to SPCHS last year and secured a spot in the junior class, was among the speakers at last week's information meeting. The 16-year-old admitted that the accelerated program took getting used to.

"It required more work," he said. "I am working harder than I would be in a regular high school. I'm studying more for tests than I would have been."

Scott, who attended Boca Ciega High last year, was originally attracted to the collegiate high school because it will put him two years closer to a career as a neurosurgeon. What attracts him now is the challenge of being on a college campus.

"It's a more serious environment," he said. "In high school, you see the punk rockers, the gang members. At SPC, there's none of that. Everyone is there because they want a college degree."

Benware has noticed a close community building in the six weeks the school has been open.

"I find the friendliness and the camaraderie among the students growing every day," she said. "Small study groups are springing up. They're rehearsing their conversational Spanish and French. I see them critiquing each other's essays."

The superportable is still filled with students at 5 p.m. most days even though the official school day ends at 3, Benware said.

Parents seem to have caught the excitement as well. Arlene Fuino, whose 17-year-old daughter, Lauren, is a senior at SPCHS, presided over the first meeting of the Parent Student Teacher Association, which attracted 85 members.

"We're just taking off like gangbusters," Fuino said. "There are parents who are tripping over each other to offer help and to support the school in various ways."

The group already is planning a fall dance and a spring prom. It is organizing a school directory, newsletter and student-of-the-month program.

Fuino's enthusiasm for the program is fueled by her daughter's excitement. The 17-year-old, who attended St. Petersburg Catholic High School last year, is studying English, oceanography, speech communications and Advanced Placement government and "absolutely loving it," her mother said.

"This is not your daily bread of education," Fuino said. "It definitely has that progressive level to it."

IF YOU GO

St. Petersburg Collegiate High will offer two additional information sessions for parents and students interested in applying to the charter school. Call 341-4610 or go to www.spcollege.edu/spchs for information.

+ 7 to 9 p.m. Oct. 6 on SPC's Clearwater campus, 2465 Drew St.

+ 7 to 9 p.m. Oct. 14 on SPC's Gibbs campus, 6605 Fifth Ave. N, St. Petersburg

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