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Southern Cayuga offers seniors a SU Project Advance opportunity

June 08, 2010

Brad Kallet

Being a senior in high school is an interesting time. Most students have fulfilled their graduation requirements and have set aside their senior year to apply for college–and not done much else.

Southern Cayuga High School, located in Poplar Ridge, N.Y., recognized this issue many years ago. In an effort to keep students’ attention and properly prepare them for the next step of their academic careers, the school began offering a Syracuse University public affairs course through a partnership with Syracuse University Project Advance (SUPA).

SUPA has been in existence since 1972 and currently partners with more than 170 high schools in New York, New Jersey, Maine and Michigan. Nearly 8,000 students enroll in SU courses through Project Advance each year, and the effectiveness of the program is measured annually via post-graduate evaluations as well as impact studies conducted every five years.

But at Southern Cayuga High School, the faculty members have witnessed firsthand the kind of impact that SUPA has on both the teachers and the students.

“SUPA offers the rigorous demand to prepare students for college, and we think it can really benefit the students,” says Southern Cayuga Principal Luke Carnicelli. “I think the program allows students to understand the demands of what college is all about.”

As of now, Southern Cayuga only offers one SU course—”Public Affairs 101″—which Christopher Clapper has taught for six years. In order for Clapper to become eligible to teach this course, he had to participate in an intensive summer workshop with SU professors who have taught the class previously. During these grueling summer months, Clapper and about 20 other teachers were exposed to the ins and outs of the course, from methods of instruction to how to properly grade papers.

Though the experience was intense, Clapper believes that the training he received led to a special bond between him and his students. “We went through the entire course and we got to experience everything that our students would experience,” says Clapper. “So when the students get frustrated, I think I have more of a connection with them because I was there, too. I did it. We shared the experience with the students.”

Clapper isn’t the only one who feels that summer workshops for teachers are beneficial. According to Southern Cayuga Director of Guidance Bernard DeGraw, the school’s administration believes that learning from highly qualified college professors can greatly improve the school’s overall quality of education.

Southern Cayuga could have chosen to affiliate itself with any number of higher education institutions, but ultimately decided to partner with SU. Because Southern Cayuga is such a small school, many colleges would not allow for concurrent enrollment, meaning high school students couldn’t earn college credit while at the same time fulfilling the high school state requirement. SUPA, however, does allow for concurrent enrollment, which was an attractive option for Southern Cayuga. But what has kept this healthy marriage between SUPA and Southern Cayuga strong for more than 10 years has been the responses that faculty members have received from alumni of the program.

“We get a lot of feedback from students who are returning from college,” says Clapper. “The majority of them have said that the public affairs course has prepared them more for college than any course they’ve taken in their high school career. It’s designed as a skill-based course, and I think they certainly develop those skills that a lot of other students don’t develop.”

The structure of the public affairs class is far different from that of the traditional high school class. Students are routinely expected to bring in information that is pertinent to the course material, as opposed to simply taking notes on what the teacher is saying. Whereas textbook reading dominates the majority of high school classrooms, SUPA students are expected to conduct their own research and make personal contacts with those in the community. This leads to an atmosphere of fierce classroom discussions and debates.

Though research papers may not necessarily be a new concept for high school students, the “Public Affairs” course trains students to do research on a broader, more global scale.

“The research that students do for public affairs is searched through the college library,” DeGraw says. “It’s not a simulation of research at the college level; it is research at the college level. And therefore, students have at least some firm understanding of what will be expected of them for research and what the options are at a college when doing research. They get really front-end knowledge that other students don’t get.”

Southern Cayuga will broaden its curriculum and offer five more courses in the Fall 2010 semester: English, American history, economics, entrepreneurship and financial accounting. Carnicelli says the decision to green-light the additional classes is due to the importance of what SUPA can bring to both his school and its students.

“The presence of SUPA is more important now than ever, with the demands of colleges and the rigor of what it takes to get into college,” Carnicelli says. “The more that we can offer the SUPA program to our kids, I think the better off those students are going to be.

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