By Jennifer Becknell — Robert Montgomery didn’t think college would be worth the effort until he took classes at York Technical College during his senior year at York Comprehensive High School.
It made all the difference. Montgomery, a 19-year-old graduate of YCHS who participated in the Western York County Middle College Program last year, is now working on a business degree at York Tech.
“It was, honestly, the reason I’m in college now,” said Montgomery. Without the program, he said, “I don’t think I would have been motivated to do this. I was ready to get out of school.”
The middle college program — which was started by the Clover school district four years ago, and joined by the York school district a year later — aims to give qualifying Clover and York high school juniors and seniors the skills and motivation they need to attend and complete college. It is the only middle college program in York County.
Eligible juniors and seniors — who are chosen through a rigorous application process — spend four days a week at York Technical College taking courses, for which they get high school and college credit while their schools pick up the tab.
The program is part of an effort to cultivate a “college-going culture” among teenagers. It targets students who might not otherwise find their way to a college or university. Some middle college students have been the first in their families to go to college.
And educators said the program is working. Of 14 Clover High School graduates in the program last year, six are now attending a four-year college, seven are at a community college and one entered the work force, said Martha Jean Starnes, work-based learning coordinator for Clover schools.
“We are very pleased with the success of it, and the students who are in it really want to be there,” Starnes said.
York reports similar success. Ten YCHS seniors graduated last year from the middle college program, and all are pursing higher education this year. Three went on to four-year schools, one is in a bridge program at Midlands Technical College and six are pursuing degrees at York Tech.
“We’re excited that they all went on and enrolled in college after graduation,” said Cynthia Spratley, a coach and facilitator for the program who gives one-on-one help to students.
Starnes said Clover has both juniors and seniors in the program.
York will be expanding its part of the program to juniors this year, said Spratley, who recently identified 14 juniors to join the program.
In the school year’s first semester, students take a class based at their high school on how to succeed in college. They learn about study habits, note-taking strategies and how to approach professors.
The next semester, a bus takes them from their schools to the York Tech campus in Rock Hill Monday to Thursday, where they take courses such as psychology, political science and trigonometry along side college students. Staff at their high schools offer guidance and help.
They also take students to visit universities around the state. Last year, middle college participants took trips to Clemson University, the College of Charleston, Charleston Southern and The Citadel.
Montgomery said he has found York Tech classes to be more challenging than high school, but also more fun.
“I didn’t realize,” he said, “just how important college was.”