Bard College at Simon's Rock to launch high school program in 2015

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Photo Gallery | PHOTOS: Bard Academy high school program announced


GREAT BARRINGTON >> Bard College at Simon's Rock is growing a new high school system.

Bard Academy, a two-year high school program, is set to welcome its first class of combined boarding and day students in fall 2015.

Earlier last week, about 30 visitors attended a program on campus to hear firsthand how the Bard brand is branching out.

Simon's Rock Provost and Vice President Peter Laipson, in addressing a group of educators and students in an informational presentation Monday night, said that the idea isn't revolutionary, but does bring something new to the menu of educational options in the Berkshires and the nation.

"In some ways, we're going back to our roots to re-imagine high school," he said.

As an early college, Bard College at Simon's Rock offers a system through which the majority of its students matriculate after their 10th or 11th grade year in high school. Students typically then go on to earn a two-year associate degree and a four-year bachelor's degree in a liberal arts or science field during their time on campus.

The new Bard Academy will start even younger, welcoming ninth and 10th grade students who could, in theory, follow a seamless pathway to receiving their associate of arts degree in four years by the time they're the age of a typical high school senior.

"Who better to prepare students for college than their own college professors," said Ian Bickford, a Simon's Rock alumnus and doctorate-holding English professor who's been named dean of Bard Academy.

Bickford said he was brought onto the campus staff in August, when some students say they first heard rumors of the new high school program forming.

Laipson said the idea has been "in contemplation for some time," and that it was in September when Simon's Rock board of overseers officially endorsed the establishment of Bard Academy.

Officials earlier this month unveiled plans for the new high school program, which includes elements of the Bard High School Early Colleges (BHSEC) model. But whereas the BHSECs are tuition-free dual enrollment partnerships between public school districts and Bard College, Bard Academy will function as a private boarding school where the associate credential will stand in place of a traditional high school degree.

The boarding rate for the 2015-16 academic year is $49,500, while the tuition rate for day students is $37,125, with need and merit-based financial aid available. All students will have access to all the amenities of the 275-acre college campus.

Between now and the fall, Bard College at Simon's Rock administration, faculty, staff and students are cooperatively preparing to transition the campus, which was founded in Great Barrington in 1966.

Simon's Rock seniors Colin Eubank and Julian Kwan both serve in student government and are part of a student advisory council for the Bard Academy program.

"I think initially the majority of students here were concerned with the safety and integration of younger students on campus," Eubank said.

Both he and Kwan said once the school administration offered current students a chance to be involved with the development process, students were eager to get involved, give feedback and volunteer to mentor the younger students. Eubank and Kwan said two core groups of 10 college students meet on a weekly basis with Bickford and other faculty and staff members working to develop Bard Academy.

"Obviously a 14-year-old needs a different level of support than a college student," Laipson said, noting that the college's transparency on the Bard Academy program has been deliberate.

Bickford, who also will teach for Bard Academy, said the curriculum will include in-depth and rigorous courses over the 36 weeks the high school will be in session. He said since the idea is for high school students to stay for at least four years to complete their associate of arts degree, the courses in themselves all will be college preparatory by nature. For students, this means the concepts of high school honors and Advance Placement courses, applications and standardized testing for college admission are all off the table.

Kwan said he can envision engaged students being successful at Bard Academy. "I think what connects students at Simon's Rock is the mentality here," he said, noting that his own class ranged in age from 14 to 20 years old.

"This is the one place no one cares what grade you are," Kwan said.

In addition to the Academy's new logo (an acorn and oak leaf), current plans to foster a unique high school culture within the college campus setting include giving students their own residence hall and staff. Officials are planning some renovations to the Carriage House building on upper campus to serve as that site.

Laipson said the first class will enroll a projected range of 15 to 30 students, followed by up to 30 new students each year.

"Many functions of the academy will be staffed by the college," said Laipson, who anticipates approximately 10 faculty from the college will teach in the academy program in the first year, and five staff who will be dedicated to it exclusively.

He said he also anticipates the hiring of five to seven new full-time employees and a number of additional part-time staffers to serve as coaches, drivers and other supportive roles.

From a fiscal standpoint, Laipson said the academy program is expected to "be self-sustaining in year one. As it scales up, the program will generate revenue beyond expenses."

This week's information session was attended by officials from area private schools like Berkshire Country Day School, and the Montessori School of the Berkshires.

Montessori Head of School Todd Covert said that after the eighth grade, students at private schools in the Berkshires have the choice to attend other private high schools or join public schools.

Covert said he was compelled to attend the Bard Academy presentation "to get a detailed picture of where our kids could go."

About Bard Academy

What: Bard Academy at Simon's Rock is an independent school for ninth and 10th grade boarding and day students. After completing 10th grade, students matriculate full-time in the two-year associate of arts degree program at Bard College at Simon's Rock. Upon completion, students can opt to stay another two years to complete at Bachelor of Arts degree.

Where: Bard Academy will operate on the 275-acre campus of Bard College at Simon's Rock, 84 Alford Road, Great Barrington.

Number of weeks in session: 36.

Accreditation: The Academy is pursuing accreditation from New England Association of Schools and Colleges (NEASC); membership in the National Association of Independent Schools (NAIS) and the Association of Independent Schools of New England (AISNE), as well as The Association of Boarding Schools (TABS).

Tuition rates: $49,500 for boarding; $37,125 for day students. Need and merit-based financial aid available. Students become eligible for federal financial aid after matriculating into the early college component of the program.

Info: Learn more at http://simons-rock.edu/bard-academy-at-simons-rock or by calling 1-800-235-7186.

Contact Jenn Smith at 413-496-6239.


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