Students challenge themselves in college writing class

A college course at a vo-tech school? Yes. Whittier Tech seniors are getting a head start on life after high school by taking an advanced writing class worth three college credits. Forty-five members of the Class of 2017are enrolled in Comp 101, being taught for the first time at Whittier, in partnership with Northern Essex Community College. Students save time and money and love the idea of being ahead of the game when they enter college next fall.

“I’m getting a better grasp of how I should be writing for college,” said Senior Salvatore Fonzo, 18 of Ipswich. “Plus it looks good on my transcripts. Colleges will see that I didn’t let a class like that go by, and they’ll know I am willing to go after things I want.”

Students save $500 on the class. Three-credit courses at NECC cost $650 and the class is offered at Whittier for $150 plus $60 for books.

The course was designed last summer by two Whittier English teachers and a professor at NECC. English Teacher Elaine Bucher, who is co-teaching the class with a NECC professor, said she is enjoying working with the driven students, all of whom had to pass the Accuplacer, a college placement test, to enroll.

“Most of them are quite motivated,” she said. “Many have taken other credits and some will even be able to skip an entire semester when they get to college.”

In the past, NECC has invited high school students to enroll in 8- and 16-week night classes.  Seniors Madison Fortier, 17, of Salisbury and Sayde Coates, 18, of Haverhill have already both earned 12 credits taking history and literature courses. After the writing class, they will have completed the equivalent of one semester at college.

“Originally I wasn’t going to do it because I thought it would just be more work,” Madison said. “ Then I realized the money I would save.” She began attending Monday classes, 6:30 to 9:30 p.m. at NECC in the middle of her sophomore year, and paid for them by working 30 hours per week moving freight and stocking toys at Walmart. “It was difficult because as a sophomore I was still trying to figure out high school and what shop I wanted to go into, but doing college stuff and getting it out of the way seemed like a good idea.”

Madison plans to study computer networking or architectural design in college, and will be the first one in her immediate family to pursue education beyond high school.

Sayde said she was happy to have Madison as a cohort in classes with her. “Some of the essays, especially in American Lit class, were pretty tough,” she said. “But we had each other to rely on and we got through it. We helped each other.”

The credits are received from NECC and are transferrable to any state school in Massachusetts. Whittier administrators plan to add other college-level classes during the school day in the future, including a math course, said Patty Lowell, Director of Pupil Personnel Services.

Sal, who plans to study mechanical or electrical engineering at UMass Amherst or Wentworth Institute of Technology, said he was also skeptical of succeeding in college English at first, but now thinks students should jump at the opportunity.

 “It will test them more than a normal English class would,” he said. “There’s a lot to do. There’s an essay every week and we go through three drafts on each one. At first I thought it would be overwhelming, but I’m managing it. I struggle with writing in general. But, I’ve found with the teacher’s help, peer editing and chipping away at my writing, it gets easier. I’m learning to add the details and descriptions to make my writing stronger.”