Early College Program offers a unique education experience

A+view+of+a+building+at+Montgomery+College%27s+Rockville+campus.+Because+of+COVID-19%2C+classes+in+the+Early+College+Program+are+being+held+virtually%2C+instead+of+on+campus.

Courtesy of Montgomery College

A view of a building at Montgomery College’s Rockville campus. Because of COVID-19, classes in the Early College Program are being held virtually, instead of on campus.

By Jeremy Fredricks, Copy Editor

Like most American 16-year-olds, Ariadne Dimitoglou is doing her schooling from home. Unlike most of her classmates, who are learning material from their junior year of high school, she is learning at a college level.

Dimitoglou, alongside other Montgomery County Public School juniors and seniors, is part of the Early College Program at Montgomery College. The program offers students the opportunity to earn two years of college credit simultaneously with their final two years of high school. 

“Attending college during high school intrigued me, and I felt that it was a wonderful way to try something new while also being a part of the Churchill community,” Dimitoglou said. “Something that I was worried about for my Junior and Senior year would be having to take a boatload of APs–the courses offered in the program at MC are quite rigorous but are very structured and the student-teacher ratio is smaller.”

The program offers more than a dozen pathways, which focus on a specific field student are interested in, including science, technology and business. Dimitoglou is in the business pathway, an area she had little knowledge in before the program.

“Despite the fact that I had very little experience in the field, the program at MC seemed very welcoming,” Dimitoglou said. “I was excited to be able to step outside of my comfort zone and get to know others who live around the area and shared similar interests.”

A typical day, which may include a lecture or a weekly assessment, begins around 9 a.m. and ends around noon, nearly three hours earlier than WCHS, which ends at 2:40 p.m. Dimitoglou’s program is currently being held virtually because of COVID-19.

“COVID has definitely impacted learning, as well as the sense of community among students at the college,” Dimitoglou said. “If COVID hadn’t existed, the program would have been drastically different. We likely would have been given an orientation at the start of the school year, with which students could use to get to know each other and also learn more about the program. While similar sessions were held online, the interpersonal aspect was lacking.”

The grading system the program uses is different than what students, like Melissa Goldstein, were used to in Montgomery County Public Schools. There is no 50% rule, all classes are for college credit and finals and midterms matter.

“In college it’s not so similar to high school, every class varies,” Goldstein said. “If you completely bomb an exam then it really hurts your grade. We have semesters and midterms, and the only grades that really matter to most professors are your midterm grades and your final grades. Those are the ones that are weighted the most.”

Goldstein is a member of the biological sciences pathway, which focuses on biology and is a stepping-stone for those interested in a job in the medical community.

“I decided to attend the program because I wanted to get ahead in my college career and to challenge myself mentally,” Goldstein said. “There’s definitely a lot of benefits to the program such as you’re learning things pertaining to your major, the staff is more available to help you out, and much more.”

Both Dimitoglou and Goldstein applied for the program when they were sophomores, the only year students can apply to the program. The applications are due by Dec. 14 this year. 

“Early College Program students get the opportunity to earn a high school diploma and associate degree when they graduate,” Marcia Johnson, a WCHS counselor and Dual Enrollment Program Assistant, said. “They complete their high school graduation requirements while at the college.  We have 19 Churchill students who are in the Early College Program at Montgomery College now & they are not attending Churchill for their 11th and 12th grade.”

Even though her class is all-virtual, Dimitoglou has still found a way to connect with her classmates. They use Discord to communicate with each other on a variety of topics.

“While we have not been able to get to know each other in person, the students in the business track have made a Discord server, where we discuss schoolwork, exchange memes, and learn more about each other’s lives at high school and before the pandemic,” Dimitoglou said. 

Dimitoglou can participate in WCHS events, like homecoming, clubs and sports teams. However, she misses her WCHS classmates and the community which she says helped her grow.

“I miss being able to see all of my friends on a daily basis, attending football games, being a part of the band,” Dimitoglou said. “Being a part of the program has allowed me to realize that the time I’ve spent away from the Churchill community has allowed me to grow. We often forget that we’re placed in a “familiarity bubble” that (hopefully) serves as a safe space and a family, and before we know it, we’re on our own and headed to college.”

Goldstein agrees, saying she misses her classmates and teachers. While she is not getting as much social interaction with her new classmates as she expected because of COVID-19, she is still glad she signed up and would recommend it to others.

“I am still learning and think COVID hasn’t impacted the learning process,” Goldstein said. “To those who have the determination, the time management skills, and the maturity level then I would think it’s a great way to get ahead.”