SOUTH PORTLAND, Maine — Nearly 50 Maine high school seniors are getting a chance to experience college and take college courses before graduating high school.
Southern Maine's Community College's 'Spring Ahead' program is for high school seniors in their second semester and allows them to finish their high school education at SMCC, where they are enrolled in college-level courses.
"Our goal is to ensure that every learner in the community is leaving with a credential of value. So the earlier we can help to provide those experiences, the better," Dean of Academic Excellence and Strategic Initiatives at SMCC Matthew Goodman said.
Spring Ahead is a free program for enrolled students, including books and meals. Students taking part are still able to participate in after-school activities with their high school as well.
"It gave me time to look in and learn what I thought I wanted to know about getting into the medical field and it also let me realize what I didn't like about that," Brandon Stocker, a current SMCC student, and 2020 Spring Ahead student said.
Stocker said by starting the program, it gave him a clearer idea of what he wanted to focus on in his career, and get a jumpstart on courses. Stocker plans to attend the University of New England in the fall to study dentistry.
"SMCC may not be the end journey for all of our students. So our goal is to work with students to get them to that next place," Goodman said.
SMCC has offered the Spring Ahead program for high school seniors since 2019, and has grown from 13 students to nearly 50 students from 13 different high schools.
"This opportunity here allows kids to access different programming early, so if they're going post-secondary, two or four year, they have a better idea of maybe what they like and they don't like, and get their general education requirements done," Greely High School Counselor Melissa Fowler said.
Fowler said the program has been a major success for her students. According to SMCC staff, since the program launched, 85 percent of enrollees have continued some form of higher education after high school graduation.
"I'll see what opportunities come and figure it out from there. I don't have this whole 'five-year goal,'" Deering High School senior Anja Frank said.
Frank is taking part in the Spring Ahead Program this year. She said she's uncertain what the future will hold, and is looking to broaden her horizons.
"Getting me used to the college atmosphere, and being around a community that isn't my own. Because throughout my high school experience, and even elementary school and middle school, I've been surrounded by the same kids and the same faces. So it would kind of ease my nerves and my anxiety just going into the regular college atmosphere," Frank said.
According to SMCC, in 2022 100 percent of Spring Ahead students continued onto college opportunities after graduating high school.