WATERVILLE — Hannah Rumery holds a job as salad and dessert prep manager at Joseph’s Fireside Steakhouse and in May she will take her state boards to become a certified nurse assistant.

The 17-year-old Waterville Senior High School junior is also attending college – right at Waterville High – as part of the Bridge Year Program, which enables high school students to take college credits at a fraction of the cost of actually attending college.

“I want to be in OBGYN and specialize in neonatalogy, working with high-risk pregnancies and sick babies,” Rumery said. “I’ve wanted to work with babies since I was 7.”

Like Rumery, Noah Perry also is a 17-year-old junior and has the opportunity to earn 30 credits toward a two-year associate degree in applied science by the time he graduates from high school. That means he would need to do only a year of college to earn an associate’s degree.

But Perry wants to be an electrical engineer and the college credits he earns at Waterville High will be transferable to a bachelor’s degree program at the University of Maine,.

Both Rumery and Perry are the first generation in their families to attend college.

“It feels good but at the same time, it’s a lot of pressure,” Rumery said.

She and Perry are two of 14 Waterville High students taking part in the Bridge Year Program, a collaboration among the high school, the University of Maine and Mid-Maine Technical Center at the high school. The 14 students travel together as a “co-hort” to English, math, science and social studies classes taught by high school teachers who have become adjunct University of Maine professors and work with the university’s professors to ensure that the students are meeting standards of both the high school and college.

The program is geared toward students who are motivated but may otherwise not have the financial support needed to attend college. Ten of the 14 students in the program are in the first generation in their families to attend college, and of the 14, five were able to pay their own way.

The Bridge Year Program, a nonprofit run by a board, was started four years ago by Fred Woodman, then the director of United Technologies Center, a technical school that serves high schools in the Bangor area, and others including college and business officials who saw a need for such a program.

Woodman said they wanted to create a program that gave high school students both academics and technical skills while they were still in high school and challenge them in a different way. The students do internships in all types of workplaces, which gives them a chance to explore career choices.

CREDITS AT A DISCOUNT

The state Department of Education awarded Waterville’s program $60,000 for this school year as part of $500,000 awarded to schools for that purpose, according to Samantha Warren, spokeswoman for the education department.

“This year, the LePage administration has proposed $2 million for Bridge Year over the biennium that would be available to Maine schools,” she said.

That funding is funneled to participating technical schools, who then hire the Bridge Year organization to coordinate the programs, Woodman said.

“We aimed it at kids in the middle because the dropout rate in college is high and we wanted to prevent that,” said Woodman, now coordinator of the Bridge Year Educational Services in Maine. “A lot of kids leave college with a lot of debt and not a lot of skills.”

Hermon High School was the first school to participate in the program that now is in eight schools from Houlton to Rockland. Next year, more high schools plan to participate. The high school teachers in the program are required to have their master’s degrees, he said.

As part of the program, Waterville students pay only $45 a credit instead of $279 a credit that regular UMaine students pay.

“You’re looking at a yearly cost of $675 versus $4,185,” said Peter Thiboutot, assistant superintendent of Alternative Organizational Structure 92, which includes Waterville, Winslow and Vassalboro schools.

Thiboutot, who coordinates the Bridge Year Program in Waterville, said the credits students earn may be applied toward a bachelor’s degree program at the university. Credits also transferable to other colleges out of the UMaine system.

High school juniors in the program take math, science, social studies and English courses developed by both the high school and UMaine faculty. The students also must take a course of their choice at the tech center.

‘A LIFE-CHANGING OPPORTUNITY’

Thiboutot said Waterville High Principal Don Reiter and guidance counselor Brenda Holt lend strong support to the program, as do the instructors – Rosemarie Smith, who teaches science; Sherry Brown, English; Donna Forkey, math; and Koren Coughlin, social studies. The teachers are not compensated for the extra work, so they’re volunteering their time.

Smith, who has been teaching 32 years – 29 at Waterville High – and is chairman of the science department, said she chose to be part of the program. She teaches the juniors environmental chemistry, which is both interesting and challenging, she said.

Being in the program is rewarding professionally, although it requires preparation and coordination, Smith said.

She has met with teachers in other schools that use the program, among them Bangor, Brewer, Hermon, Hampden, Houlton and Ellsworth high schools, as well as Medomac Valley High School.

Meanwhile, Woodman said that the schools in the program plan to continue it next year and more are enrolling, including Messalonskee, Edward Little, Schenck and Hodgdon high schools, as well as Foxcroft Academy.

Woodman and state legislators, as well as Hermon High School graduate Morgan Harvey, 19, visited Waterville Senior High School on Friday to discuss the program.

Harvey graduated from Hermon last year after being in the program two years and in December earned an associate degree in fire science from Eastern Maine Community College. She continues to be an EMCC student and is in a live-in firefighter program at Hermon Fire Department.

She said that when she entered Bridge, she had been a straight A student in honors courses, but rarely went to class because school was easy.

“I missed every day of school that I could because I didn’t see the point in going if I could still pass my classes without being there,” Harvey said via email.

At Bridge she enrolled in public safety courses at the area’s vocational school. “The class was interesting and I started to want to be at school and hated missing days. My attendance greatly improved,” she said.

Recently, Harvey accepted a conditional appointment to the Bangor Fire Department as a firefighter/EMT, and credits the program with helping her map her career path.

“It was a life-changing opportunity for me,” she said.