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St. Petersburg College opens collegiate high school downtown

Mark Parker



St. Petersburg College is launching new programs to inspire entrepreneurship and innovation. Photo provided.

High school students – including incoming freshmen for the first time – now have a chance to prepare for careers in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) while earning college credits, all in the heart of downtown St. Petersburg.

St. Petersburg College (SPC) recently announced the third location for its collegiate high school program, this time at its downtown St. Petersburg campus in the center of the city’s business district. SPC’s charter school program, established in 2004, currently has locations at its main St. Petersburg/Gibbs campus and in Tarpon Springs.

The downtown St. Pete program is the first to enroll ninth-graders. Starla Metz, associate vice president of collegiate high schools, said the extra year helps SPC better align courses and create a strong academic foundation.

“One of the things we work really hard on in the pre-collegiate program is to infuse reading, writing, critical thinking, research and college readiness skills,” said Metz. “Now we have two years to help develop those skills.”

Metz explained that SPC’s pre-collegiate program will serve ninth and 10th-graders, while upperclassmen take part in the collegiate program where they dual enroll in college classes. Upon graduation, students will possess a high school diploma, an associate in science (AS) degree and at least two STEM-related industry certifications.

As technology continues evolving, Metz called STEM education “absolutely critical” to prepare students for high-paying jobs. The school offers AS degrees in computer information technology, data systems and business intelligence. With some additional courses over the summer, graduating seniors can earn their associate in arts degree to continue their education at SPC or another Florida college or university.

“We’re really excited because we think STEM is the future, and that’s where our students are going to have the opportunity to have economic mobility for themselves and their families,” said Metz.

Starla Metz, associate vice president of collegiate high schools, said the downtown location would provide a wealth of unique opportunities for the free program.

Metz also expressed the value of the school’s location in downtown St. Pete. She said program officials would partner with the wealth of local business leaders in the immediate area to participate in seminars and speak to students about career pathways. Metz added the collegiate high school is on the same floor as the American Stage Theatre Company, creating opportunities for students to attend events or create a drama club.

Metz said one of the reasons SPC chose its downtown campus, located at 244 2nd Ave. N., for the latest collegiate high school was its convenience for parents. She said school officials hope to attract more underserved students in the area that may live too far from the other programs, and said they benefit from both the curriculum and the downtown partnerships.

“We’re building an internship into the program – and relevant work experiences,” she said. “We’re hoping that our students will take advantage of all that, and it will lead to future job opportunities.”

The program also benefits the companies downtown, Metz said. She explained the goal is to create a talent pipeline into the surrounding business district, and deans from SPC will work closely with community partners to ensure the program aligns with their workforce needs. She added that as students make connections with local business leaders, the likelihood of staying in the area after graduation increases.

Metz added that having business partners speak to the students will inspire them and offer an authentic look at career pathways and where those pathways can lead in terms of future possibilities.

The program is free and saves families and students the cost of two years of college. SPC provides books and all necessary materials, including graphing calculators.

“And then students who qualify for free or reduced lunch, we provide them with a lunch voucher so they can eat free in the college café,” said Metz.

The college also offers complimentary transportation through PSTA. With their SPC identification card, students can take any county bus anywhere they like, whether to and from school or to meet up with friends. Metz said parents sign a form acknowledging their child’s freedom to ride the bus.

Collegiate high school students can still play sports through their traditionally zoned schools, and Metz said SPC help facilitate that process. She added that many club athletes participate in the program, and upperclassmen in college courses typically do not take classes on Friday, adding flexibility to their schedules. Metz stressed the importance of those enrolled in the program enjoying a well-rounded high school experience.

“Our students have all the clubs and traditional events that you would expect at a regular high school,” she said. “They have prom and fall dance and grad bash – they get two graduation ceremonies.”

The SPC collegiate high school is open to all Pinellas County residents who wish to apply. For more information, visit the website here.



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