Teens get jump-start on college

LouAnna Brigalia, now 16, wants to earn a master’s degree before she turns 25.

The junior class member at Iberville’s Math, Science and Arts Academy-East campus already is getting a boost toward achieving her educational goal with help from the recently created College Academy at Baton Rouge Community College.

Brigalia and 16 other high school juniors and seniors from MSA-East and Plaquemine High School are members of the inaugural class of students attending the Iberville Parish School District’s Dual Enrollment Program at BRCC.

The college readiness program gives teenagers an opportunity to earn college credits while they complete high school.

The College Academy students attend classes from 8 a.m. until noon daily at BRCC before they are bused back to their home schools to finish out the day while taking their regular high school courses.

Brigalia said she’s taking 15 college-credit hours this semester, including U.S. history, psychology, fine arts and an online Spanish class.

She hopes to major in humanities while attending Louisiana State University after graduating from high school.

“It’s easier than I expected,” Brigalia said of her college courses. “People always say college is hard, but if you’re focused on your work and pay attention to your professor, you can really go somewhere.”

Katelyn Spedale, another junior at MSA-East, also called her dual-enrollment classes easy. Spedale, 16, is taking U.S. history, psychology and biology at BRCC.

“I was nervous before we started because it was supposed to be hard,” Spedale said. “Some of the stuff in these classes, I’ve learned already.”

Spedale said she decided to enroll in the program to get a jump-start on her college education. She’s thinking of attending LSU as well.

“I figure, if I can graduate (from college) earlier,” Spedale said, “I’ll have all kinds of time to do other stuff.”

The Iberville College Academy is among several new educational programs launched in Iberville public schools this year.

Among the new specialized learning ventures are theme-based programs such as the Atchafalaya Basin Academy at Crescent Elementary and a new virtual learning academy at North Iberville Elementary School.

School Superintendent Ed Cancienne said the BRCC College Academy puts Iberville in line with trends emphasizing the increasing need for post-secondary education for high school graduates facing a more-competitive job market.

There are five Louisiana school districts — Iberville, East Baton Rouge, Central, Zachary and West Baton Rouge — with students taking part in BRCC’s Dual Enrollment Program. But Iberville and East Baton Rouge are the only two among the five with students actually attending class on the BRCC campus.

“This academy really fits the point of job and career readiness,” Cancienne said. “It allows them to be in an environment where they are exposed to higher education earlier.”

Iberville students pay $50 per course at BRCC while their school district covers any additional costs for necessities such as textbooks and transportation.

Iberville Parish students were eligible to attend the College Academy only if able to meet BRCC admission standards and if they scored at least an 18 in English and/or 19 in math on the ACT.

Amanda Mayeaux, Iberville’s career management specialist, said about four dozen students expressed interest in the college-level program, but didn’t meet the qualifications.

Mayeaux serves as the College Academy’s resident mentor while high school students are on the BRCC campus. She helps them navigate through the daily struggles of college life such as buying textbooks and dealing with financial aid matters.

Mayeaux also provides ACT tutoring to help College Academy students improve their test scores.

“I help them figure out how to do college,” Mayeaux said. “They are all very well prepared. They’re not overwhelmed by the work. But I have a lot of students here who are first-time college students whose parents adore them but don’t know how to prepare them for college.”

Mayeaux said high school juniors at BRCC potentially may earn up to 30 college-level credit hours before graduating from secondary school.

Their early start on four-year college degrees also allows College Academy students to stretch any state aid they get from the Taylor Opportunity Program for Students, known as TOPS, which covers eight semesters of college education, Mayeaux added.

Mayeaux and Cancienne both said they are hoping, as student enrollment grows, that the Iberville School District may partner with school systems in other parishes to establish a full-fledged high school on the BRCC campus

“We see value with the students going every day and having a site there,” Cancienne said. “I think this thing is going to grow. We’re not just dropping kids in a new environment. We’re transitioning kids from one to the other.”