For nearly four decades, seniors at Townsend Harris High School have had the chance to earn twelve college credits before even getting their high school diplomas.
“A lot of us, a main reason why we came to Townsend Harris is because we knew that we were going to get this in our senior year,” student Jaedyn Clarke said.
But the 37-year-old program was thrown into jeopardy last summer, not just by the need to go virtual due to the pandemic, but also by city budget cuts that sent the school community reeling.
“It was like being sucker punched,” said Karen Lin, a parent member of school leadership team.
The school scrambled to fund this year’s program out of its own budget, and is now getting a hand from Assemblywoman Nily Rozic, who secured $400,000 in state funding to keep it alive in the next school year. It shows the value of having a powerful ally in Albany — Rozic is a Townsend Harris alum.
She’s hopeful a surge of federal stimulus money and state education funding will help keep it safe for years to come.
“I'm happy to provide, you know, some funding through the state, just to get them through the next year, but long term we really need all parties to come to the table and say that this is an investment worth making,” she said.
The program is built into the school’s mission, literally: the school was built right next to Queens College. Before the pandemic, students would attend in person, with the goal of giving them a college experience beyond just the coursework.
“They also learn how to navigate a college campus, what a syllabus is, where to go for books, how to email a professor,” said Robin Hizme, director of college preparatory programs.
This year, of course, a real college experience means attending virtually. Students log on to Zoom for their two classes, a humanities course and an elective of their choosing.
Knowing the program is safe for next year is a relief for Jaedyn, a current junior who was worried she might miss out on a school rite of passage.
“It's almost like college with training wheels, in a sense, so when we go in there we’re just fully prepared. And a lot of alumni have come back and said that program has just really prepared them,” she said.
The funding will also mean Townsend Harris can hold on to part of its identity.
"It's who we are. When you think of Townsend Harris High School, you think of the bridge year program,” assistant principal Veronica York said.