Pinelands Regional Set to Launch ‘Learning Academies’

For Selected Few, Advanced Courses Earn College Credits
Apr 02, 2019
Photo by: Ryan Morrill

Learning academies are coming to the Pinelands Regional School District.

The idea had been discussed at board of education meetings for several months but started to become a reality on March 19, when an introductory meeting with parents of the Class of 2023 was held. There was “a great turnout,” according to Superintendent of Schools Melissa McCooley.

Actually Pinelands will have two learning academies: one centered on the biomedical field and the other on the humanities and law. They will kick off this fall with freshmen “cohorts,” groups of 10 to 15 ninth-graders who, hopefully, will remain together for all four years of high school. Further cohorts are hoped to be formed with each incoming freshman class.

Students enrolled in the academies will take core classes together, with a goal of not only concentrated learning in specific fields but also earning college credits via dual enrollment classes in conjunction with Ocean County College and Stockton University.

Charles Morgan, supervisor of the Pinelands mathematics and science programs, had outlined the biomedical academy to the board of education at its December meeting.

“I had the opportunity to talk to the science staff,” said Morgan, “and we put together what we thought we could use with our existing curriculums, and then some other courses that we may need to add in order to accomplish this.

“So, the honors bio(logy), the honors chem(istry), the AP (advanced placement) bio and the AP chem all currently exist in our curriculums. What we would like to add is anatomy and physiology 1 and 2, and microbiology as a second elective science course, in grades 10, 11 and 12.

“The math component is very similar to what already exists. We do highly recommend that students who are in a biomedical career path take an AP stats (statistics) course and then also take AP psych (psychology). We also list up here (on a projected chart) the courses where students can get dual enrollment credits from either OCC or Stockton.”

Gina Frasca, supervisor of the Pinelands English language arts program, followed to explain the humanities/law academy.

“This is a prospective humanities and law (curriculum); this is a draft,” said Frasca. “We are actually meeting with Stockton tomorrow, and we have met with OCC. So again, this is a draft.

“Across the top (of another projected chart) is the English portion of the humanities/law academy and the honors classes going into AP classes in the eleventh and twelfth grades. I lined them up with Stockton courses, and you can see the Stockton courses are four credits apiece.

“The next line is the social studies, starting with honors world history. I did line that first honors world history up with an OCC class – that would be three credits. Then next year, in tenth grade, they would take the honors pre-AP U.S. 1 class, which is also lined up with an OCC class. Then their junior and senior years they would take AP U.S. 2 and AP European history, and they would both be lined up with Stockton courses for four credits.

“Next year the current eighth-graders would take macroeconomics in ninth grade, which is lined up for Stockton for four credits.

“In tenth grade, hopefully, we could bring back AP psychology because it is in both the humanities/law and the biomedical engineering scope and sequence. So AP psychology would be their sophomore year, lined up with Stockton. Eleventh grade we would bring in sociology and family law. We already have sociology, so we would have to add that family law piece. Then, their senior year, with a little bit more room in the schedule, they would be taking law and legislative process, and careers in public service.

“Again, this is tentative. We will be talking to Stockton about this, about how to line this up and get our teachers on the books with OCC and Stockton.”

Will Taxpayers

Foot the Bill?

The learning academy students will obviously have quite rigorous course loads, which is why students will have to apply to be accepted into a cohort.

The rewards, though, would be considerable. Students would build up college credits while in high school – a semester’s worth, possibly a year’s worth – allowing them to start college with a considerable head start on their peers. Plus they and their families would be able to save considerable money, because the dual enrollment classes would be much cheaper than tuition and fees – and, perhaps room and board – as a full time student.

But will taxpayers end up paying for those rewards?

“So this is a cohort,” said McCooley at the December meeting. “So what they’re going to do is they’re going to apply to be part of this cohort. We have some sample applications – these are the current eighth-graders. Once we present this to the students, the families, they would apply for this.

“So what we’re envisioning is about 10 to 15 students and they would be part of a cohort. They would take these courses together – not every course in their day – but these courses they would take together, and if they took the course it, would be a dual enrollment course.

“The next piece that the board would have to really agree upon, or decide, is whether to pay for the entire dual enrollment course for this cohort of students; (or) pay a portion of it. My recommendation would be – initially, to get this off the ground – that the board support and pay for the courses for the students that are in the dual enrollment in these cohorts.

“So what I did was I cost it out, if it was 15 students in the cohort for the next four years, how much it would cost with the worst case scenario. What I’m saying is Ocean County College courses, we know, are three credits and they are about $300.

“The Stockton courses are four credits – $400. However, if they qualify for free or reduced lunch, they’re free. That’s the perk of going with Stockton... So we’re gonna try to blend it where we kind of get the best of both from both universities.

“Just to give some perspective: If we had 15 students in it, over a four-year period, for each one of the cohort groups it would cost about $15,000 a year. So it’s really not a significant amount of money, initially.

“Thinking long term, if we’re going to get another group to start, then another group to start, we may want to, down the road, say the student pays a portion. Or, maybe we’ll look for some grants for these academies ... especially if we start growing more academies. But as Miss Frasca said, the benefit of this is the student is now graduating with college courses under their belt that have only cost three to four hundred dollars each, as opposed to the course that they may have taken at OCC or Stockton as a full time student – as long as they get a C or better, I believe. And in some cases, they get even more credit if they take the AP exam and they score a certain amount on that AP exam.”

— Rick Mellerup

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