A pilot program to boost knowledge of engineering and extend college credit will be offered to a handful of Beaufort County students next school year.
The program, called Accelerate, is part of a partnership with the S.C. Governor's School for Science and Mathematics. The Beaufort County School District is one of eight in the state that will participate in the program, which is built around virtual courses.
Four to six high school sophomores will be selected for the program in each of the eight districts. Other participating districts are Dorchester School District Two, Greenville County School District, Horry County Schools, Lexington School District One, Orangeburg Consolidated School District Five, Pickens County School District and Richland County School District One.
The students must have completed algebra 2, have a "B" average or higher, and scored "exemplary" on standardized math and science tests.
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Interested students will complete an online application. Semifinalists will have an interview and write an essay. Accelerate staff will make the final selection. Participants will take two virtual classes through the Governor's School next year -- pre-engineering and pre-calculus for engineers, said program administrator Zaria O'Bryant. Hands-on projects will be conducted over some weekends and the summer.
The students will participate in the classes from a room at Bluffton High, where they will connect with peers across the state and Governor's School teachers, O'Bryant said.
"We will be able to monitor the kids' feedback, including their facial feedback," she said. "We'll be building support networks within the school community and with their families. We don't want it to feel like we're just taking an online course. It should feel like they are taking a real course."
It's not clear whether that means only Bluffton High students can participate. Peter Grabowski, Beaufort County's science coordinator, said the possibility of students transferring to the school to participate in Accelerate has not yet been discussed.
The courses will follow a college schedule and meet three days a week. On the days they don't meet, students will work with each other on hands-on projects as part of the curriculum, Grabowski said.
"It's going to be a very collaborative atmosphere," he said. "They will have two days to meet with their peers and work on projects. It's designed to be hands-on and interactive."
The courses will be woven into their regular school schedule, Grabowski said, and the students will still take electives, foreign languages and other core classes at Bluffton High.
The students will take more virtual courses in the program during their junior and senior years, including an entry-level college English course designed for engineers that focuses on technical writing, O'Bryant said.
If they complete the program, they will have a year's worth of college credit. They could begin as sophomores at the University of South Carolina, The Citadel, Clemson or S.C. State University.
Grabowski said the program may be expanded to include more students or more schools in the coming years, depending on how well students in the pilot perform.