Exploring their minds and college life

Middle-schoolers take AACC psychology course

May 06, 2007|By Susan Gvozdas | Susan Gvozdas,Special to The Sun

Anne Arundel Community College officials had one directive for Kim Hunter before she started teaching Psychology 101 this semester to a group of Severna Park Middle School eighth-graders: Don't water down any of the tests or the homework assignments.

Hunter didn't, and she has been surprised at the results.

The 13 handpicked students do their homework, learn the material and are enthusiastic during classroom discussions. All of them have held onto their honor-roll status, despite the addition of an after-school class.

"It's exciting for them," Hunter said. "I have not had one of them not participate in class."

Severna Park Middle decided to imitate a Johns Hopkins University program that offers college-level courses to middle-schoolers in hopes of challenging its top students, said school guidance counselor Jacqueline Cannady. Some who have taken the SAT scored higher than their high school counterparts, she said.

The guidance office contacted the community college to find a course that would not conflict now with the students' schedules or later with the offerings of AACC's Jump Start program, which allows high school seniors to earn college credits early.

The community college was enthusiastic about the project and so were the parents, Cannady said. The middle school selected 55 students after reviewing their SAT scores or grade-point averages, and from that produced the class of 13 psychology students. Each of them had to apply to the college and enroll to take the about $300 course.

It's the youngest group to take a class at the college, said Tom McGinn, AACC's director of admissions.

"We had interested students who wanted to do something different, enthusiastic parents and the support of the school administration," he said.

Richard Murphy, 14, said he thought the class would be a great opportunity to get a taste of college life. He enjoyed learning about dreams and states of consciousness the most.

"The stuff is hard to understand," Richard said. "You have to read it twice to get it."

Hunter teaches Advanced Placement psychology at Severna Park High School and the introductory psychology class at the college. Instead of the college class this semester, she took on the eighth-graders. The class takes place after school from 2:45 p.m. to 3:50 p.m. Wednesdays and Thursdays. It started in February and wraps up at the end of this month.

McGinn said the class might be offered again next spring.

Hunter said the eighth-graders are much more engaged than her high school seniors and college-age freshmen because they really want to learn. The seniors often are preoccupied with graduation, the prom and getting a summer job. The community college freshmen usually express a cursory interest in the subject, but many simply take the class because it is a requirement, Hunter said.

The eighth-graders bring a fresh perspective and have a stronger imagination than their older counterparts, Hunter said.

"They do a lot of `what if' scenarios, and they are always fantastical," Hunter said. "They go off on what only a 13-year-old would think of."

The eighth-grade students don't seem to have a problem grasping the concepts, although they do have a more difficult time knowing when to take notes and how much to highlight in their textbooks, Hunter said. "Their whole books are pink," she said.

Rose Carignan, 14, said she finds herself relating what she has learned in psychology to her other studies.

Now that she is close to finishing the class, Brittney Beigel, 13, feels more confident about handling the pressures of college.

"So now I know if I just study and work hard, I'll be able to do it," she said.

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