Two Crestwood High School juniors looked slightly nervous as they were ushered into a conference room with a small group of district officials, community patrons, and a newspaper reporter. Their apprehension quickly turned to celebration, however, as they were told they’d been selected to take early college courses next year, for free.
Sydney Sobolewski and Gustin Gariano both dropped their mouths in disbelief as Crestwood Superintendent Joseph Gorham told them that they had not only been accepted to the district’s new Early College program, but that they were being awarded full scholarships for it, from two local donors.
Those donors –Mountaintop’s Kiwanis Club, at the meeting represented by Marvin Metzger and Mike Hill, and private citizen Cathy Malkemes –beamed with satisfaction at the students’ surprise and words of appreciation.
In addition to Gorham, other school officials attending the meeting were Joseph Rasmus, assistant superintendent; Chris Gegaris, high school principal; Peg Foster, Fairview principal who will transfer to high school principal next year; and Bonnie Gregory, middle school principal.
They each congratulated the students, who will spend next year part-time at Crestwood and Luzerne County Community College, and complimented their hard work and achievement. “These two are the poster people for this program,” Gorham said. “They’re both highly successful academically and they’re involved in the community.”
Crestwood has had a longtime program, called Young Scholars, which allows students to take college courses while in high school, traditionally English, math, or science classes. What’s new for next year is the Early College experience, for students who would not traditionally qualify for the Young Scholars program.
Early College will allow students to explore specific trades by taking extra-curricular college courses, allowing them to either find their future calling or rule out possible college majors, all while accumulating transferable college credits.
Roughly 145 students from
Crestwood are expected to participate in the Young Scholars and the Early College programs next year. To be chosen, the application process includes a review of a students’ academic performance, school attendance, teacher reference, and a student essay. Applications are then furthered to Luzerne County Community College.
For Sobolewski, she will explore culinary arts courses next year, while Gariano will take courses in the field of welding. “This is awesome. I’ve always wanted to do culinary arts,” related Sobolewski. “And when I heard about this, I was excited.”
While he has some experience working in the welding field already, Gariano said the program will allow him to expand his interests, to experience using sophisticated welding equipment, and to learn all aspects of the trade.
Both expressed the convenience of getting to explore the careers they think they’re interested in, while still in high school. Gregory explained that this is important, because it could avoid students changing their majors multiple times at college, and taking longer than four years to graduate.
Whether the students discover that culinary arts and welding are their career paths or not, the program will be a success because it will point them in the right direction, added Rasmus. He is one of many who took a long time finding his calling, having multiple careers and accumulating much student loan debt.
“It’s a great opportunity for you to find out if this is a fit for you or not,” he said. “If it’s not, you’re one step closer to finding your way.”
Malkemes, who donated to the students’ scholarships, is the wife of Ken Malkemes, a school board member and community activist who passed away last year.
She told the Eagle, “I had approached Mr. Gorham a couple months back looking for information on scholarships. He introduced the program to me and I thought it would be a great way to honor my husband’s memory and at the same time support Mr. Gorham.”
The other scholarship donor is the Kiwanis Club of Mountaintop. “The Kiwanis is a service organization and our primary focus is to serve children. This is an extension of that,” explained Metzger.
Members of the Kiwanis Club wanted to know the money donated would make a difference, Hill stated, and the focus of the Early College program appealed to them because it provides a valuable opportunity for students.
Reiterating Rasmus’s sentiment, Hill related that he wished his son had the chance to attend the Early College program, as he spent five years in college, graduated with a degree in music, and is now not using that degree.
“He’s now finding what he wants to do,” Hill said of his son. “He’ll get there and he’ll do great, but the process has been a little painful for him.”
Both Foster and Gegaris noted that they’ve heard that same story repeatedly and they are excited that the Early College program can help guide the future of Crestwood students.
Gegaris then gave Sobolewski and Gariano several pieces of advice, including telling them to always advocate for themselves and never to accept the first “no” in life, to keep asking for something if it’s what they want.
Metzger advised them on adapting to future changes, relating that everyone at the table made their own adjustments, as none of them had Internet in high school but use it now every day in the work force. Gorham and others joked about technology of the past, reminiscing about using typewriters and other archaic tools, causing the two students to look amused and, at times, confused.
Turning to the two students, Gorham expressed his confidence in their bright futures. He said, “Your hard work and persistence, it’s paid off. Just make us proud.”
Gorham noted that any person or organization in the community that wishes to contribute funds to the Young Scholars or Early College programs is encouraged to contact him through the Crestwood Superintendent’s Office.