The best way to describe New Milford High School's Academy is to quote from the book "The Alchemist" by Paulo Coelho:
"When you want something, all the universe conspires in helping you to achieve it."
In the case of these students, the administration and educators are working hard to expose as much of the universe as possible to them to help them achieve an understanding of the life that awaits them after graduation.
For Academy seniors, what awaits them after graduation is college. And Principal Eric Sheninger was looking for a way to give them a real taste of the academic rigors of college when from a Twitter follower he discovered OpenCourseWare.
OpenCourseWare, originally initiated by MIT and the Hewlett Foundation, is a free and open digital publication of course lessons created at universities, presented by professors who teach the course, and published free on the Internet.
Since its original inception in 2002, Princeton, Yale, Harvard, Stanford, University of Notre Dame, Emory, and Tufts offer courses through OpenCourseWare, just to name a few.
At the same time that Sheninger discovered OpenCourseWare, he was also mentoring Julie Meehan, a middle school teacher in Tenafly, in one of her graduate courses.
"I asked Julie to help me figure out a way that we could utilize OpenCourseWare," Sheninger said.
Meehan developed the Independent OpenCourseWare Study (IOCS) Program.
"It was a natural fit to pilot this through our Academy Program because they've proven that they want to go above and beyond," Sheninger said.
Early in the Fall, Academy seniors received a survey of courses offered through OpenCourseWare and the university offering each particular course.
"We knew we were onto something when we saw them selecting courses offered by Yale, Harvard, Stanford and MIT.
Upon choosing their course, each participant had one marking period to complete the course, after which they were required to give a five to seven minute presentation related to their course of study.
One student in the STEM Academy (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math), Tariq Khan, embarked on an MIT course in Computer Engineering and Programming.
For his project, he and a partner studying the same course, designed a computer game.
"The MIT course taught me the coding language," Khan said. "The course gave me the instruction I needed to then go and learn more on my own."
(Khan is also a member of the NMHS team that participated in the Panasonic Creative Design Challenge. The team just advanced to the finals.)
Sheninger said that another Academy student told him that IOCS taught her what to expect from an Ivy League education because the learning experience was vastly different from the typical K-12 education she had been used to.
"We could have never offered these students the courses they studied through OpenCourseWare," Sheninger said.
"They were learning directly from MIT and other Ivy League professors."
Each Academy senior participating in the IOCS program received one honors credit for their presentation.