As they get ready for the senior year of high school, Elvis Cardenas and Rachel Lalmansingh have been working on term papers - for college.
Cardenas and Lalmansingh, both of Freeport, deciphered hieroglyphics and studied Egyptian history as part of a pilot project that takes teenagers from high schools with large minority populations and lets them try college classes.
"So far," Cardenas said, "my term paper is up to six pages."
The project, funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, allows students to earn up to 20 college credits at no cost before the end of 12th grade. Freeport High School paired with Post this summer, and Roosevelt High School will join with SUNY Old Westbury in the fall.
The two pairings are part of 11 such partnerships around the state in the experimental $6-million "smart scholars" program, launched this year. It is expected to last four years.
Carolyn Thompson, director of magnet schools and grants for the Freeport district, called the feedback from students "awesome." She added, "The discussions [in the classroom] have been at a higher order of thinking" than is typical in high school.
Cardenas, 17, lived in Peru and Argentina until moving to Freeport at age 12 with his family. His father works at a restaurant and his mother has a child-care business. He hopes to study engineering or architecture - and to be the first in his family to graduate from college.
His classmate Stivalie Marte, also 16, said she has found the constant readings and quizzes much more rigorous than in her high school classes. "You definitely learn more at college," said Marte, who enjoyed a field trip Monday to a King Tut exhibit in Manhattan. And on Wednesday, she was intrigued when the 20 Freeport students, wearing latex gloves, passed around a mummy's hand that had been donated to Post.
Bob Brier, the instructor of the five-week course called "Games of the Pharaohs," says he holds the visiting students to the same standards as the undergrads he's taught for years. "College students are thinking about their careers, but high school kids are more open - they're alive," he said.
The class ended Thursday. In addition, for three days this week, 14 ninth-graders from Freeport attended noncredit classes at Post that offered a sample of college-level education while emphasizing the importance of good study habits.
Post administrators see the program as a way to let students know what college offers. Besides, said Nicholas Ramer, associate dean of Post's college of liberal arts and sciences, students entering college with transferable credits will save thousands of dollars - "a wonderful incentive to keep studying after high school."