Students at Roosevelt and Freeport high schools will get expanded choices of free college courses next fall - including, in one case, the teachings of Plato and Aristotle - under a foundation-funded initiative announced Thursday by the State Education Department.
James Llana, dean of Old Westbury's School of Arts and Science, says planned college courses for Roosevelt High School next fall include a freshman-level seminar on ethics that will include readings from Greek philosophers and other great thinkers, including Martin Luther King Jr. The idea, Llana says, is to get teens thinking, not only about their preparation for the job market, but also about their broader roles in society.
"It's about the cultivation of the individual," he added.
In Freeport, school Superintendent Kishore Kuncham said he hoped to get a quick start by offering free college coursework as early as this summer to at least a limited number of students.
"I'm so excited, particularly for our students and families," Kuncham said.
The two Long Island high schools are among 11 statewide with large black and Hispanic enrollments sharing $5.5 million in grants from a foundation established by Microsoft magnate Bill Gates. The program is to run four years and serve about 2,570 students.
Like most Long Island high schools, those in Freeport and Roosevelt already offer their students college-level Advanced Placement courses taught by high school instructors. One difference in the Gates-funded program is that it also offers students extra tutoring when they don't have the academic skills needed to complete college work.
"It really brings college into the vernacular of people who wouldn't otherwise think of it," said Roger Tilles, the Island's representative to the state Board of Regents who, along with other state authorities, met with Roosevelt school leaders Thursday. Tilles is a former Long Island University trustee.
The Early College High School initiatives announced Thursday will be the first on the Island and part of a national network of schools and colleges that join in providing students with college courses. In many cases, students earn a year's worth of credits before graduating from high school.
The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation currently helps support about 150 programs nationwide, including more than a dozen in New York City.
One open question is whether additional funding will be available for the program, once foundation money is spent. In 2007, the State Education Department proposed a much larger $100 million program that was never approved by state lawmakers.