Bay City Central High School is picking up the tab for Associate's Degrees or apprenticeships

Starting this fall. Bay City Central High School is picking up the tab for two years of community college or education in the skilled trades.

Even before the 2022-23 school year ends, the district is explaining the five-year Early Middle College program that debuts in the fall of 2023. The goal of the program is to start kids on the path to a career.

New Tech Network, the California company providing the learning model being used by Handy Middle School, is partnering on Central High School’s curriculum and learning plan redesign. (Click here to read Route Bay City’s May 18 story on what’s happening at Handy Middle School.)

“This re-design plan is a radical transformation,” says Matt Felan, President of the Board of Education and a member of the re-design team.

He explains that the Early Middle College program not only gives students five years to complete their education, but it also provides experiential, hands-on, and collaborative learning.

“It’s going to better position our students for today’s workforce.”

Felan and Chief Academic Officer Patrick Malley both say the re-design will provide opportunities to students who wouldn’t have been afforded them otherwise.

Incoming Bay City Central High School freshmen have access to a new, early college program. (Graphic courtesy of Bay City Central High School)It all begins in the fall when every incoming Central High School freshman will be admitted into the five-year program. The program gives students the opportunity to graduate with not only a high school diploma, but also an Associate’s Degree or an apprenticeship.

Either way, they’re on path to a fulfilling career.

“The program offers options,” Felan says. “If you want to stay four years and go through traditional high school, you have that option. If you would like to take college courses and have up to 60 of the credit hours paid for and stay either four or five years, you have that option.”

Malley says the goal is to give students the most options possible.

“The school district is going to pay for college credits or apprenticeship programs and be there to help my kid along that pathway,” Malley says. “We’re re-designing the entire high school to better align with those opportunities throughout our region. The way parents read it is – this is an exciting opportunity for my kids.”

The plan wasn’t without opposition. As with any change in a 150-year-old school system, there was pushback, Malley says.

“But this idea resonates with our board, and with our community, and we’re thrilled with that.”

He says the payoff for the program comes when the first cohort graduates successfully, either with the qualifications to immediately begin their career or part-way toward a Bachelor’s Degree.

The Early Middle College concept isn’t new, but it is something un-tried in the Bay City Public Schools.

Malley, who helped implement a similar program at Sanford-Meridian about a decade ago, saw its success there, and knows how well it works. Still, before Bay City adopted the program, Malley says about 35 people from school district, local businesses, parents, and teachers met twice a month and visited schools where the system is working well.

“We’ve held four business leader summits to engage the business community about what they’re looking for from graduates from Bay City Public Schools,” says Malley. “Obviously, with this tie-in with Early Middle College, it fills a need for our local community, when we start talking about that gap we’re seeing in the workforce.”

The program is complex and involves a re-design of the school building to accommodate the extra year of learning. Malley says the program also calls for the district to pay for college credits and apprenticeship programs. The district picks up the tab for books, transportation to and from Delta College or Davenport College and even provides stipends for food.

“We want to break down the barriers that get in the way of a first-year college student being successful,” he says. “We think we can add value to the community just by eliminating those barriers that are traditionally getting in the way.”

Incoming sophomore and junior students aren’t excluded from the five-year program, but Malley says they have to “opt-in” as opposed to the incoming freshman who will be automatically enrolled.

Freshman can choose to opt out of the program and follow a traditional track toward graduating in four years with a high school diploma. But the district hopes most of the members of incoming freshmen class stay in the early college program.

Along with the five-year track, Malley says another part of the program is called “Freshman Focus,” where a team of teachers, counselors and staff provide students with behavioral, social, and emotional support. That support will make sure incoming freshman have the best opportunity to transition into high school, and into the path they want to take.

Each student is different, Felan says, and no two will take the same pathway.

“In reality, we have to offer everything,” Felan says. “Maybe some kids will go through this and think a two-year associate’s is enough, some kids will think no level of higher education beyond high school is necessary, and some will come out and think getting a four-year degree, that getting those first 60 credits paid for, is a gateway. It gives us the opportunity to really be anything to anyone. You can do what you want to do.”

The program partners not only with Davenport and Delta College, but local trade unions for apprenticeships, Felan says.

“It's not one size fits all – each kid is unique, and this will fit who they are and will determine how they utilize the program to pursue their career and their dreams.”
In the past, the district has offered other, similar programs, but Malley few students took advantage of them.

Malley is unsure if the obstacle was awareness, transportation, distance, or something else. The new program seeks to remove all obstacles.

“We’re committed as a district to preparing kids for post-secondary education and training, and we want to be very broad in our interpretation of that to be inclusive of the trades, apprenticeships, in addition to college,” says Malley.

“Some students will be able to get an Associate’s Degree before they graduate high school. Others will, we hope, be able to get through their entire apprenticeship and be able to earn a wage during that fifth year, but also have the support of mentors from the school district in order to help solve problems and clear the path for them.”

Both Felan and Malley say it makes sense for the school move away from the traditional four-year high school track.

“Bay City Public Schools intends to support all of their students in the Class of 2027 and beyond through their first year of college and apprenticeship programs,” Malley says. “We are working with Delta College and area apprenticeship programs in order to develop those pathways.”

To learn more about the re-design of Bay City Central High School, Malley has posted videos on YouTube or visit the district website.
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