The unique Middle College program at Ozarks Technical Community College, designed to give high-school students a chance to change their lives, will graduate its first class this week.
A total of 20 students will receive diplomas from Middle College, created to help with Springfield R-12 school district’s high-school dropout rate, targets underachieving students who have the potential to excel, giving them an opportunity to prepare themselves for a post-graduation life.
For Chris Cooper, the program did more than just change his life.
“I believe it saved my life. If not for this, I would be on some side street still on drugs, drinking, out of school,” said Chris, who was attending Parkview High School before coming to OTC two years ago.
Now, Chris will attend OTC and continue his studies in Diesel/Automotive Technology, one of the three areas the Middle College offers the specially selected students, in addition to Early Childhood Development and Medical Services.
“The program is designed for students who are behind in school or have life circumstances whereby the traditional high school is not as suitable. These are bright kids and through assessment have demonstrated a high potential to do college level work. We will provide them with a lot of resources on campus to give them a leg up, but we will also insist they step up their own expectations for learning,” said Dr. LaRaine Bauer, Middle College coordinator at OTC.
“Sometimes, simply by taking them and dropping them into an adult-oriented college environment, students begin to take school more seriously and learning becomes relevant.”
That’s what helped Ashlyn Seyler, a Central High School student who will graduate from the Middle College on May 16 at a 6 p.m. ceremony at the Gillioz Theater.
Ashlyn hated high school. She didn’t like getting up in the morning for classes.
But when she heard about the Middle College program, the only one of its kind in the state, Ashlyn took a closer look and applied.
“Now, I want to get up in the morning. I want to succeed. I want to be in school,” she said.
The program is being conducted in partnership with the Springfield school district. It’s funded in part with grants from the Community Foundation of the Ozarks, the Missouri Department of Economic Development, and the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education.
While the Middle College is designed to assist students that are struggling in high school, this program addresses the needs of students that are historically underserved or lack access to higher education.
Bauer said the students’ internships are critical to the success of the program.
“The internship component makes us unique. After they earn their diploma, they can enter the workforce with some valuable skills or continue in higher education and stay with us or go on to get their four-year degree,” Bauer said.
Jennifer Payne, who made the president’s list and is a member of Phi Theta Kappa’s honor society, said she never thought she’d be so successful and plans to enroll in college.
“I thought I’d be a failure or a dropout. Middle College has changed my life 100 percent,” she said.
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