Eviction averted, LIC school’s college program returns

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For Astoria resident Christian Garcia, the city Department of Education’s decision to buy the building that houses Middle College High School was a huge relief.

After the landlord of Middle College in Long Island City did not renew the school’s lease, the city stepped in and closed on the building in mid-July — allowing Garcia and more than 60 other students to pursue their soon-to-begin fifth year in the special program that allows individuals to attain both a high school diploma and an associate degree from LaGuardia Community College in five years.

Middle College is located across from LaGuardia Community College, and LaGuardia allows the students to take courses for free.

“We don’t have money for college now, so it’s important to me that I can go here,” Garcia, 18, said of Middle College. “That fifth year gives you a year to think about the career you want to follow. My major now is liberal arts and humanities, but I’m hoping to change it to criminal justice.”

The number of students continuing with their fifth year has nearly doubled for this fall, and about 62 students from a class of 98 individuals have decided to pursue their last year at the school that educates nearly 500 pupils from throughout the city.

According to Linda Siegmund, principal of Middle College, this number represents a dramatic increase over previous years, when an average of 25 to 30 students, out of a graduating class of about 100, continued a fifth year of studies.

“Many of the students are staying because of the economic situation and because of the support students get through teachers helping them here,” said Middle College Assistant Principal Socrates Ortiz. “Students start to feel a little more at ease during that final year, and they can move on to a four-year college.”

Middle College was established in 1974 as an alternative high school by the city Board of Education and LaGuardia and was redesigned in 2002 as an “early college” when the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation awarded LaGuardia funds to create a program that would allow minority and disadvantaged students who were struggling academically to follow an accelerated path that would lead to a combined high school diploma and associate degree.

“This program is about leaving no one behind,” said LaGuardia Community College President Gail Mellow. “It puts all our focus and attention on students who often don’t get the extra attention and encouragem­ent.”

The school has become popular, and Ortiz said they received about 1,600 applications for a freshmen class with about 100 available slots. Many of those who attend Middle College are often the first in their family to graduate from high school and college, and Ortiz said the school fosters an environment in which students feel at home.

“We give not only academic support but emotional support as well,” Ortiz said. “We have students who come in hungry because they don’t have any food at home or really tired because they’ve been up all night because they’re the main caregiver in their family. We give support to all our students, and they really feel they have a family here.”

Reach reporter Anna Gustafson by e-mail at agustafson@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-229-0300, Ext. 174.

Updated 6:33 pm, October 10, 2011
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