THE RIBBON-CUTTING CEREMONY last year for the Bishop Maginn High School/Maria College partnership.
THE RIBBON-CUTTING CEREMONY last year for the Bishop Maginn High School/Maria College partnership.
When Bishop Maginn High School in Albany changed the focus of its curriculum last year, officials did not expect the level of success the school has experienced.

"We were anticipating three or four kids" would participate in a model that allows Maginn students to take college-level courses for free through Maria College in Albany, said Maginn principal Christopher Signor.

Instead, by the end of the next school year, close to 60 percent of Maginn's student body will have completed Maria College courses, taught by college professors at the Maginn campus.

Starting in their junior year -- or, in the case of one star student, sophomore year -- Maginn students can earn 12 or 13 college credit hours per school year. All they have to pay for are textbooks.

With so many students involved, the grant from Maria College that funds the program is maxed out, Mr. Signor said; but Maginn has been assured by Dr. Thomas Gamble, Maria College's president, and Dr. John Kowal, vice-president of academic affairs and chief academic officer, that the missions of the two schools are aligned and the connection will continue.

"We'll cross that happy bridge when we come to it," Mr. Signor said of funding even more students' participation in the program.

This academic year, 30 students are taking Maria classes in anatomy and physiology, statistics, sociology and creative writing. Up to a half-dozen different courses will be offered next year, so that students have opportunities to continue completing as many as 30 college credit hours before finishing high school.

"A student can be halfway done with Maria's occupational therapy assistant program or have one year completed of the [registered nurse] program," Mr. Signor told The Evangelist. "We're offering something so uniquely different from other public and private schools."

Though the Maria program targets Maginn's more highly-motivated students who would be college-bound regardless, Maginn's curriculum change has also been a success for students elsewhere on the spectrum. Maginn is also offering a "Regents-optional" academic program for students like the group of Karen refugees from Myanmar who attend the high school.

Having just come to the United States a few years ago, Mr. Signor said, those students would not be able to do well on New York State Regents exams. For students in that situation, Maginn offers its own, non-Regents diploma.

About one-third of the student body will receive a Maginn diploma. The other two-thirds will earn a Regents diploma. Mr. Signor noted that, for all students, Maginn does follow New York State learning standards. Either diploma makes a graduate eligible to go to college and eligible for the state's Educational Opportunity Program (EOP), which offers financial aid for college.

An internship program is also putting students out in the community at nearby New York State agencies, the State Legislature and the State Museum. Mr. Signor pointed to this as another example of Maginn's focus on service.

Amid all the changes, Bishop Maginn High has also improved its marketing efforts to prospective students, including outreach to area public schools.

"Our mission is total outreach to the entire community: to provide a high-quality education with all we have to offer," Mr. Signor stated.

As a result, enrollment at Maginn rose from 95 students last year to 124 this year. While that number is lower than the enrollment at some other Catholic high schools, Mr. Signor told The Evangelist he isn't concerned.

"We have gotten support from the Diocese, the Catholic Schools Office, the Bishop," the principal said. "I don't think we have to worry about Bishop Maginn, ever, because this is in God's hands."

"They're definitely on a good path," agreed Giovanni Virgiglio, diocesan superintendent of schools. "They've made significant progress in a short time. We're happy for them. Bishop Maginn's partnership with Maria College is a success story."