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Episode 3 – Dual Enrollment

February 23, 2023 | Season: 1 | Episode: 3 | 27 minutes

Today’s episode is about our Dual Enrollment program, a partnership between HCPSS and Howard Community College to expand options for students to gain college credits, explore possible careers, and even earn an associate degree while in high school.

Joining Dr. Martirano today will be the program’s coordinator, LaRee Siddiqui and Sarah Tokar, a River Hill High School teacher experienced in teaching dual enrollment courses.

We hope you enjoy this conversation about JumpStart Dual Enrollment.

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  • LaRee Siddiqui
    Coordinator, Dual Enrollment
  • Sarah Tokar
    Teacher, River Hill High School



Narrator: Welcome to the Inside HCPSS podcast, a podcast produced by the Howard County Public School System centered around conversations with HCPSS Superintendent, Dr. Michael J. Martirano.

Today’s episode is about our Dual Enrollment program, a partnership between HCPSS and Howard Community College to expand options for students to gain college credits, explore possible careers, and earn an associate degree while in high school.

Joining Dr. Martirano today will be the program’s coordinator, LaRee Siddiqui and Sara Tokar, a River Hill High School teacher experienced in teaching dual enrollment courses.

We hope you enjoy this conversation.

Dr. Martirano: Greetings everyone, and thank you for tuning in to our school system podcast once again. I’m Dr. Michael Martirano, the proud superintendent of the Howard County Public School System. And today, in our next episode of our podcast, today we are going to be discussing our Jumpstart Dual Enrollment Program, a program that is extremely important to all of us, to me specifically, our partnership with Howard Community College and the expansion of our program over the last several years, and the benefit that that provides to our students overall.

And today, I have with me two outstanding individuals in the school system. LaRee Siddiqui, our Dual Enrollment coordinator, and Sarah Tokar, who is one of our outstanding teachers. And so, today, to get things started, LaRee, I’m gonna ask you to just help frame this, the program, and what it exactly is for our community, recognizing that many of our students and our parents and our families and community members will be listening to this. I want them to fully understand the architecture behind this, and the benefits. So, start things off with us by providing that contextual point of view for this program.

LaRee: Excellent. I would love to. So, I am the proud coordinator of the Dual Enrollment Program, and we offer the opportunity for Howard County Public Schools students to earn college credits while they are still in high school, in an inclusive and nurturing environment, using an authentic college experience, to help close the achievement gap, with intention. And we offer two ways that students can access those college credits while they’re still in high school. The first is that students can actually go over to Howard Community College. They are our primary partner for Dual Enrollment, and students are able to take courses on HCC’s campus, with HCC professors, and have, you know, the actual on-campus college experience. We also offer several high school-based Dual Enrollment courses in our high school buildings, and with expanded opportunities, to include English, math, world languages, social studies, and then also at all of our high schools, we offer career and technology education options.

Dr. Martirano: Okay. So, in common speak per se, our students are actually taking college credits while they’re in high school. Is that a way to really summarize that, Sarah? Is that how you would think about that?

Sarah: Yep, that’s exactly how it works. So, I teach modern world history, the Dual Enrollment Program at River Hill High School, and my students are taking a history class that meets all of the requirements for MSDE for graduation. They’re meeting all of the HCPS’s objectives, but at the same time, they’re also meeting all of the objectives for History 132 at HCC. So, I mean, that’s what the name means, dual enrollment. They’re killing two birds with one stone.

Dr. Martirano: So, we can talk about several different benefits. So, let’s unpack those a little bit. One benefit is, I am resolute in my belief that one of the major predictors in success in college for young people is to actually participate in a dual enrollment class, an AP course, higher-level rigorous courses in general. So, talk to me about the significance and the benefits and the confidence-building that this actually has for our young people who are navigating a path towards college.

Sarah: Well, I see this as the best of both worlds. This class is an authentic college class. I’ve taught it at HCC, so I know that it is exactly the same rigor and the same challenge that the college students are getting. But they get to spread it out over a year, a school year, instead of a semester as you would in college. So that’s, you know, a little more relaxed. And they also get to take this first step into college in a comfortable place. It’s their familiar setting, with their own peers, a teacher who is very responsive to them, who, you know, they’ve seen in the halls, and it’s not a strange college professor, which seems a little daunting sometimes. So it’s like they get to dip their toe into the college world, and yet still be in a safe environment and a really enjoyable environment. We get to do a lot more collaborative activities, activities that you typically do in high school, that are, you know, fun and engaging, not quite as intimidating as a lot of college classes are. So it is, like I said, I think it’s the best of both worlds that way.

Dr. Martirano: Well, and that’s a great perspective in terms of defining the actual rigor, and the academic intensity of those courses that replicate the exact experience that a young person will receive in college, and it does build their confidence. LaRee, let’s go a little deeper with it as well. From the family’s point of view, you and I had the opportunity to participate in an event last year at Howard Community College, where we recognized a number of our graduating seniors who at the same time completed enough credits for college that they actually earned their AA degree, their associates degree, from Howard Community College, and the number of parents, I remember closing down that activity that evening, talked to every parent at the event. It was an amazing evening. But the number of parents who talked to me about how it helped them financially navigate the expectations of college, because we have to recognize that higher education is also very expensive for our young people and our families, and they’re thinking of ways to navigate that. LaRee, talk more about that and what our families are saying about that, and the benefits for that.

LaRee: Yep. So, absolutely, participation in Dual Enrollment, whether you are earning a couple college credits through our flexible model, or following one of the more structured programs like the opportunity to earn 60 college credits prior to high school graduation, is actually quite combatant against the rising prices of higher education. Students and families now have the opportunity to access Dual Enrollment at no tuition cost, through the Blueprint for Maryland’s Future. So, we are certainly seeing an increased level of interest in the program because of that. And then, also, you know, families are relieved, because perhaps college was gonna place a significant burden on them, and, you know, quite honestly, create a barrier. And so by, you know, participating in Dual Enrollment, they’re able to say, “Oh, not only can I be successful in a college environment, I have enough under my belt that, you know, I have two options.”

The first option is to go straight to a four-year university, if that is the desire of the student. But one of the great things about Howard Community College is they offer lots of degree programs, the early college program in cybersecurity being an example, right? That if you get your associate’s degree in cybersecurity, you can immediately enter the workforce. You’ve got some stacked credentials, in-demand workplace, especially in this region. And so you can go and get a job, and they will take care of paying for the rest of your education should you decide to complete that bachelor’s and master’s degree. So this really is a pathway forward for students in a way that it was not before.

Dr. Martirano: Well, and we know that I talk about it all the time. Our mission, as a public school system, from birth to 12th grade, is to ensure that when young people graduate, they are college-ready, career-ready, and life-ready. And that college should not be just defined for individuals who have a certain level of wealth that they can make certain that they can afford to send their children to college. This is about equity as well, in allowing all of our young people to have the opportunity for college courses and access to college as a pathway. Talk further, LaRee, about the blueprint that you just alluded to, and the tuition-free, and that regardless of one’s socioeconomic background that they should have full access to these college courses of which we’re offering. That is so important to our core mission and my core beliefs as an educator about our school system. Go a little deeper on that.

LaRee: Sure. So, the Blueprint for Maryland’s Future was a sweeping piece of education reform legislation that was passed last year. And Dual Enrollment is one part of that particular piece of legislation. And that statute changed. And now every student has the ability to access Dual Enrollment at no tuition cost. That is the same for both of the courses inside of our high school buildings. And in those courses, we as a school system provide those textbooks. So students truly have no cost for the high school-based courses. And then, for courses that are based at Howard Community College, several of their most commonly-taken courses, English, math, social studies, actually have what are called zero-textbook-cost sections. So, students do not, you know, again, they’re able to access at little to no cost a college-based Dual Enrollment course. And then, so, you know, we’ve got some other classes as you get into more specialized courses, where there might be a required textbook, or, for example a very specific chemistry lab, right, that is needed. And the Blueprint for Maryland’s Future also will cover the funding for students who opt in to that 60-credit program, for their textbooks and course fees. So, truly, full access.

Dr. Martirano: Okay. Very good. Sarah, I want you to go a little deeper in regards to what young people need as far as their skill levels to be successful in these courses, that are highly rigorous.

Sarah: Yeah.

Dr. Martirano: I mean, I’ve used that term several times throughout this conversation. So, these are not courses that are watered down in any way. I get that question from parents every now and then, that they can’t be the same level equivalency of a course that a young person would actually receive when they’re actually on-site at a campus. Let’s kind of demystify that a little bit, and talk about the skills. Go into that at a deep level.

Sarah: Okay. Well, these are the highest-level bump in the GPA that students can get in their high school transcript. And so that should tell you, you know, it’s the equivalent of the AP’s weight. And so that helps demystify that a little bit, to recognize that they are truly rigorous. But I would also say… And then, in my class, I know the textbook is pretty hard. That is probably the most challenging thing in the history class. I can’t speak to the other disciplines, but I scaffold that for the students, and I make sure that, you know, I sort of meet them where they are. The thing that I love about the CC class is that it really does bring in students from lots of different backgrounds and lots of different perspectives, lots of different skill levels.

So, I have kids that are really challenging themselves, maybe coming up from an honors level, but then other kids who are working, you know, they’ve taken some APs before, and now they’re taking this. And so you really have a very interesting mix in the classroom. And I do a lot of collaborative work, and that, you know, makes for some really rich experiences. So, I would say the thing that pushes kids the most, or that challenges them the most, is not the difficulty of the work, but maybe the consistency of the work. The fact that, yeah, they are gonna have a certain amount of textbook reading that they have to do a little bit each day, or maybe, you know, a lot on the weekend if they’re procrastinators. There are, you know, pretty regular assignments that they need to stay up with. Of course, we have the midterm and the final. We have a big term paper in the spring. So these are college-level expectations, but as I say, we get to spread them out over the full year, and we use those scaffolding tools to make sure that they’re ready.

Dr. Martirano: Yeah. Very good. Have you had the opportunity to talk to our students who were a part of the program, who are now in a college environment, and did they ever talk to you about the benefits and the preparation?

Sarah: Yeah.

Dr. Martirano: Talk a little bit about that.

Sarah: I’ve had a lot of alumni get in touch with me. I’m sure you have too, LaRee, that students that are at Penn State or at Virginia Tech, of course, any of the Maryland schools, and they have all said that this prepared them really well for the challenge of college. Now, I will also say, my own children graduated from HCPSS, and they were prepared. They didn’t take CC classes because they weren’t available yet. They’re a little bit older. So, I think HCPSS, across the board, prepares kids for college. But this just adds one more tool. The thing I like about the CC is also they can pair it with taking classes at ARL, taking some AP. You know, none of those programs are exclusive. So I have a lot of students that have a really rich mix on their, you know, if you wanna call it a resume or whatever. They are dabbling in all of these different programs to suit their individual needs. And I think that’s great.

Dr. Martirano: I really appreciate you lifting that up, because I don’t want… We’re focusing on our Dual Enrollment program today, but I also want people to understand that we’ve offer our advanced placement courses, and our offerings at our ARL program. All of those are in that same basket of offerings for our young people. And I wanna also highlight what you said that if you’re not even participating in those, the level of how we approach our instruction for our young people prepares them for the college experience and the work experience and additional training which they may receive overall. So I’m very pleased to hear that that, that process. And so, we’re having a very good conversation about the technical pieces of this, as well as then the benefits for our students. And I’m very impressed with how our student body is approaching this overall. LaRee, in terms of any advice that you would give to our parents and to our students around this program, what things come to mind as someone who may be considering this as an option? And I’ll hear from you as well, Sarah, but start with that, if you would.

LaRee: Sure. So, the first piece of advice that I would give is to plan for an authentic college experience, that is first and foremost going to be driven by the student. Whether or not the student is in a CC course or in a course on Howard Community College’s campus, they’re gonna go through an application and registration process that is, you know, akin to other college application processes, right? You might not have to get several letters of recommendation, but outside of that, you know, from the start, our collaboration with HCC creates an authentic onboarding experience. And then, really, the other thing that I would advise students and families is to think about the courses that you wanna take, and use intentionality behind it. Oftentimes when a price tag is removed, people are jumping in and saying, “Let’s do it all.”

And, you know, I often say one of the great things about HCC is they have a lot of courses there that you can earn high school and college credit simultaneously, but then there’s also some really great specialized courses, psychology, criminology, some great engineering and computer science programs, that are above and beyond what we offer in our high school buildings. So take advantage of the unique opportunities that are available on that campus, that are appealing to you as a student, because, as we’ve mentioned, it will be authentic. There will be demands that will be placed on our students that are, you know, above and beyond a traditional high school class. So, I definitely encourage students and families to set up for success in that way.

And the third is to use the resources that are available. Our collaboration with HCC is immensely strong. Every month, they send admissions and advising staff into our schools to meet with students, to provide feedback. On campus, for every class you take, either in our building or on their campus, you have access to one hour a week of free tutoring in that specific content area. Use that. Use the writing labs, use the math labs. We’re gonna be rolling out some great Jumpstart community events that my office is gonna be running this spring to ensure, you know, community among Jumpstart students. So, we definitely encourage you to access and use the resources that are available.

Dr. Martirano: And just, you know, you just piqued a couple of thoughts in my mind. Talk about when should parents start thinking about this with their students, with their children? When should this conversation happen? This shouldn’t wait till 12th grade. Go ahead.

LaRee: So, students are actually able to access Dual Enrollment opportunities as early as eighth grade.

Dr. Martirano: Let’s emphasize that. As early as eighth grade.

LaRee: Yep. And that has been under Dr. Martirano’s leadership, so I will give him…

Dr. Martirano: Well, thank you.

LaRee: …the credit for that. And really, you know, a middle schooler might take, like, a world languages class, for example, on HCC’s campus. So, actually, as you’re starting to plan your schedules right now, you know, this February-ish timeframe, is a great time to start thinking about it. In February, March, and April, we’ll be working with our partners to facilitate application and registration sessions at all of our high schools. In addition, you’ll get the Jumpstart website at the end of this event, or at the end of this recording, and you’ll see that we have several drop-in online support sessions designed to facilitate the movement of students through the application and registration process. And that is, you know, right now, we’re gonna be doing those through the end of May for the fall 2023 semester, and we’ll pick those back up in August as well. So, right now is a great time to start thinking about it. Check out the HCC website and the Jumpstart website for all the instructions that you need. And, of course, you can always email and we’ll be happy to answer your questions.

Dr. Martirano: Wonderful. That’s great to hear. Sarah, talk a little bit more in terms of, you know, your advice to parents, you know, strictly from the vantage point of being one of our instructors, one of our teachers in the program.

Sarah: I would echo what LaRee said about taking advantage of all the HCC opportunities. And that includes the fun things too, that when you’re taking an HCC class, whether it’s in one of our buildings or on their campus, you have access to their gym, and their computer lab, and their concerts, and all kinds of fun things that are going on. And one thing that parents don’t, they’re not privy to, and even some of my colleagues don’t realize this, the support that we CC professionals get from HCC is tremendous. And so I get a lot of support from the history department at HCC. I get to do professional development with them. I get to meet with the other history professors and get invited to their social events and that sort of thing. And so, you know, I would just like everybody to know that it really is a partnership that benefits both institutions, and I think parents can benefit from knowing that that’s going on.

Dr. Martirano: I really like the focus that you just presented regarding the fun and the tangible items associated with the participation in this program. And it reminds us, we always have to put our thoughts in the experience of our students. Not every young person understands what college is. Not every one of our young people in our school system has actually stepped foot on a college campus. We have to remember that, and remind ourselves that this program opens up all the doors for access, and provides that experience to say, “This is what college is all about.” For some of our young people, it’s a very abstract process, and as I continue to use the phrase, to demystify, it provides a level of comfort, confidence, and an experience that really bolsters their self-confidence in their ability to do this. So, thank you for lifting that up.

Sarah: Yeah.

Dr. Martirano: My final comments are just the higher level process of our thought process for our families and our community about how we have redesigned the 12th-grade experience. It wasn’t too long ago that our students needed this, just that one credit of English to complete, you know, their experience. And they were not necessarily filling it with courses that were representative of. And there was a lot of conversation in the research and the literature about the 12th-grade year in general. We’ve really transformed that process to make that a beneficial year, almost a pre-college experience, a pre-career experience for our students. And I would like for you to end with, you know, your thoughts about that, the true benefits that this provides our young people. Let’s really emphasize that, and then we’ll wrap things up. LaRee, take the first bite of that apple on that last question.

LaRee: Yeah, sure. So, you know, I did mention English is one of our most commonly-taken courses. The majority of the courses that are accessed on HCC’s campus are accessed by our seniors. And they have really taken advantage of those opportunities. Like I said, taking not only the courses they need to graduate the English classes, the math classes, but courses that they want to take, courses that are of interest to them. I always joke that I wish I had taken a dual enrollment course before I picked marine biology as my college major, because I got into that first college marine bio class and said, “I have made a terrible mistake.” And so, you know, I just think that taking the opportunity to explore things that you’re interested in. And our seniors are doing that, which is just great.

Dr. Martirano: The same thing, like I’ve had a number of parents, if you’re thinking your child maybe have an interest in being a medical doctor, and if yo u find out that they don’t want to experience the emergency room, or they have a problem with emergencies, you might want to explore that, to test that out. And our programs allow for that. So I really appreciate that. Sarah, give us some final thoughts on it.

Sarah: I teach mostly juniors. And so when I see the seniors, they often, you know, will just stop by my room to chat or, you know, during our Hawk Time or before school, after school. And they love to tell me what they’re taking on HCC campus, you know, or I’ll say, “Oh, I haven’t seen you in a while.” “Well, yeah, that’s because I’m only here two periods a day, and then the rest of the day I’m over at HCC, and let me tell you about this art history class I’m taking.” Or, you know, they are filled with confidence. It’s almost like they’re different people than they were last year.

Dr. Martirano: Absolutely.

Sarah: And I think that always happens. The seniors do blossom a lot, but these ones that go over to the campus, I think you see them really grow, and they are no longer looking at senior year like, “Oh, it’s a drag, and it’s something I just have to get through before I can move on with the rest of my life.” They’re really enjoying it.

Dr. Martirano: Leverage for their own development and academic awareness, as well as, then, as we navigate the cost of higher ed, all of those things come together. And I once again wanna emphasize the number of conversations that I have with our students who have left us and then return, talk about how beneficial these programs are. And I just want our broader community and our families and our students to see that benefit.

Well, we’re ready to wrap up, and I am absolutely thrilled with today’s episode with LaRee Siddiqui, our Dual Enrollment coordinator, and our wonderful teacher, Sarah Tokar. Thank you for joining me today. I think our parents have gotten a wonderful overview of our very important Dual Enrollment Program and the benefits that it provides our students and our families overall. So, thank you for your interest in this topic today, and looking forward to talking with you at our next episode of our podcast.

Narrator: And thank you for joining us and listening to this podcast episode. Stay tuned to future episodes this season where we’ll continue to discuss topics related to the school system and our terrific students and staff.

To learn more about Dual Enrollment opportunities for students, visit

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