Like many students at St. Frances Academy in East Baltimore, Joseph Scott Jr. knows that taking advanced courses will increase his chances of getting into a good college.
So a pilot technology program that will offer advanced high school courses and advanced-placement courses for college credit at St. Frances beginning next month couldn't have come at a better time for Scott, who is entering his senior year.
Called the Project for Enhancement of Educational Resources in Under-Served Areas, or PEER-USA, the program will be tested at St. Frances and Archbishop Carroll High School in Washington.
The schools were chosen because at least 75 percent of their students are black and a large percentage of them enroll in college after graduation, said Eugene Peters, a trustee for the Lange Educational Fund, the program's primary sponsor.
"We decided to find schools that are doing a good job," Peters said. "We're trying to give them that little extra that makes a difference. We're trying to give these kids all the benefits they would get if they were going to a fancy preparatory school."
In addition to the rate at which its students enroll in college, St. Frances was chosen, Peters said, because more than 80 percent of its students who go to college graduate within five years, a figure he called "phenomenal."
The program will enable St. Frances students for the first time to take advanced courses in physics and creative writing, while offering students at Archbishop Carroll advanced-placement courses in calculus, Latin and creative writing, Peters said.
The program also will test distance learning, in which instructors and students are in separate places.
Because of the small numbers enrolled in advanced classes, instructors will teach St. Frances and Archbishop Carroll students via satellite, said Tom Nealis, director of development and academy relations at St. Frances. Students will watch instruction via satellite and ask questions and receive answers during class through e-mail, Peters said.
Instructors from St. Anselm's Abbey School of Washington, widely recognized as one of the country's premier college preparatory schools, will teach the courses.
St. Frances officials are excited about having been chosen for the pilot project, which Peters said could expand to 12 schools during the 2001-2002 school year.
"I think the potential is outstanding," said Nealis. He said St. Frances' officials requested creative writing and physics classes.
St. Frances Academy, a Roman Catholic School at 501 E. Chase St., is the country's oldest high school with African-American roots. It has 280 students. The program will target its 120 juniors and seniors, Nealis said.
"From what I can tell, it's going to be a great thing," Scott, 17, said this week in a telephone interview.
A senior who plays basketball and baseball at St. Frances, Scott said he is considering Baltimore City Community College and St. Francis College in Loretto, Pa.
Peters said officials had intended to begin the program when school starts next week, but the recent strike by Verizon Communications Inc. workers will push things back a week.
The program would have cost St. Frances and Archbishop Carroll about $200,000, Peters said. Besides Lange Educational Fund, Tandberg Corporation, Axxon EDIT Inc., and Axxon MED.COM Inc. are helping sponsor it.