Thomas Nelson President Dr. Towuanna Porter Brannon and Hampton City Schools Superintendent Dr. Jeffery Smith began exploring ideas several months ago to expand the dual enrollment partnership. They wanted creative and fun ways to reach out to rising 10th graders, students who normally are one year away from participating in dual enrollment at their high schools.
What they came up with was the “Summer Experience.” The first-year program, which lasted five weeks, culminated Aug. 4 with a ceremony at the Peninsula Workforce Development Center as two dozen students received certificates and earned three college credits each.
“I think what’s really amazing is we started out with 24, and we’re ending with 24,” said Maggie Haley, the dual enrollment coordinator at Thomas Nelson.
LaToya Lawson, the college and career coach at Phoebus and Kecoughtan high schools, was in charge of the program. She agreed with Haley.
“For these kids to be getting up an hour or two early just to get on the bus and be here every morning by 9 o’clock, it was spot on,” she said.
For five weeks, the students, representing Hampton's four public high schools (Bethel, Hampton, Kecoughtan and Phoebus), attended class every Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday from 9 a.m. – 1 p.m., taking the College’s ITE 120 course, which is Principles of Information Technology.
“We were looking to do something that would be interactive,” said Lawson, who added they looked into a course on drones, but that didn’t work out.
Nick Pierce, an information technology instructor, offered his class, saying he could make it fun and tailor it to a younger audience.
“A lot of these students are much more tech-savvy than we are, so giving them those foundation skills, letting them learn some new things on the computer, it was great,” Lawson said. “(Pierce) went into cybersecurity, and all those fun things that the kids like to try to learn.”
Haley also noted this particular IT class is a prerequisite for many classes, including ones for gaming and drones.
However, it wasn’t all about classroom instruction. Pierce took the students on a tour of the Hampton campus, the mechatronics/machining labs in Hampton, and the cybersecurity lab at the Historic Triangle campus. They also received Thomas Nelson student IDs. In addition, Pierce had guest speakers at lunch to talk to the students about how technology is used in real-world applications.
Jayalani Piotrowski, one of the students in the program, said learning how technology is used in everyday life was the best aspect of the program.
“I’ve always had an interest in technology, and I knew I wanted to make a career out of it one day,” she said. “I like working with videos and making art on tablets. I just find it really interesting.”
Lawson said many of the students know what they want to do as far as college, but they don’t know how to get there.
“This was some of their first experiences in the college setting,” she said. “Some kids knew that they wanted to go to college, but didn’t think of Thomas Nelson.”
However, after taking the class, having discussions, and learning what an associate degree can do for them, many said they could see themselves starting off at a small school, such as Thomas Nelson.
“That was what we were hoping to see, that they would see how that evolution works between going to high school and if you want to go off to get a career, if you want to go off to Thomas Nelson, wherever, but we need to have some type of foundation,” Lawson said. “I think they all came in with an idea, but I think they’re leaving with a bigger grasp of what this needs to look like for them.”
Kris Rarig, vice president of student affairs at Thomas Nelson, said she would be thrilled to see these students at the College in a few years. However, that wasn’t the reason for the program.
“What we really wanted most of all was to give you an experience, an experience in higher education, an experience in college,” she told the students, hoping that wherever the students go to college, their expectations will be met because they knew what to expect. “That was really what we wanted to do, give you an opportunity to see what it’s going to be like in the hope it would be something you want to continue.”
She often hears from new college students that their expectations were not met because they didn’t know what to expect. When that happens, students are less likely to stay in school.
“Anytime we can get expectations and experiences closer together, we can get better outcomes,” she said.
Dr. Raymond Haynes, chief of Secondary School Leadership in Hampton, commended the students on their willingness to participate in something new.
“It’s always great to be the first. I think I mentioned that to all of you the first day of class,” he said. “To be the inaugural class or the first to do something, I think it’s an amazing
feat. … This is the first time in the history of Hampton City Schools that rising sophomores got an opportunity to take a college course.”
Lawson was equally impressed with the students.
“Five weeks, it seems like it’s a short period of time, but we’re talking about ninth-grade students, many of whom have not been in a classroom for two years,” she said. “It was tough at first because many of them are just having to get back in the groove of being in class.”
The plan right now, according to Lawson, is to invite this group back again next year, and have a new cohort of ninth graders. Eventually, it will be a two-year program, for rising ninth and 10th graders.
Smith congratulated the students on being pioneers.
“You have set forth for other young people an example to follow,” he said.
Giving up their time during the summer was a decision not all students make, he said. That shows their commitment to their futures and says a lot about them as people. But they didn’t just show up, they actively participated and were willing to learn.
That wasn’t all that impressed him.
“Your contributions were just as important,” he said. “You offered thoughts and ideas, and I’m sure as we go forward in future years, that what you shared in terms of ideas and suggestions, and what you brought to the table and your contributions, will help further shape this experience for other young people. You were a champion for this.”
Everyone involved stressed it took a lot of people to make this happen.
“We can dream all day long. You can have the vision, but you need others to carry it out,” Smith said of the administrators and all the people who worked behind the scenes to make it a success.
Haynes said while Brannon and Smith came up with the idea, “we had to make it happen. I want to send a special thanks to the Thomas Nelson Community College staff.”
Smith praised Brannon.
“She was a visionary here as well,” he said. “She was willing to embrace the thought, the concept, and said, ‘Yes, indeed, we can partner with Hampton City Schools in this regard.'"