Cybil Stroh and Elizabeth Arthur started college yesterday.

Today, they're going back to high school.

Along with 31 other Baltimore County seniors, Cybil and Elizabeth will split their days between high school and Dundalk Community College in a new Parallel Enrollment Program (PEP) for students with time in their high school schedules.

Cybil and Elizabeth, for instance, will start their days at 7:45 a.m. at Dundalk High, then, four days a week, walk a few blocks to the college at 9:25 for a 75-minute class and at 10:45 head back to high school for the rest of the day.

Each needs four high school credits to graduate.

"I'm just here to explore and have fun," said 17-year-old Cybil, who was excited just before her first college class. The PEP students are taking a wide range of courses in English, mathematics, science and health. They had to apply to the college, take a placement test and go through orientation, just like other Dundalk students.

"We're trying to open doors for kids," said Barbara Russell, principal of Patapsco High School and architect of the program, which is drawing students from four southeastern high schools.

Because some seniors finish their requirements early, "they tend to fill up their schedules with things they don't need, and don't want, and don't tend to do well in. Some of the kids who are over there are really going to benefit from it," she said.

The high school-college connection is one of many innovations greeting Baltimore County's new and returning students today. Enrollment is expected to increase by at least 3,000, and may top 100,000 for the first time in 15 years. There are also three more schools, for a total of 158, to help accommodate the growing population.

The brand new Jacksonville Elementary is opening with 700 students, and two new magnet schools in old buildings, Sudbrook Middle in the Pikesville area and Cromwell Valley Elementary east of Towson, will house 850 and 400 students, respectively, with new programs and state-of-the-art technology.

Sudbrook and Cromwell are two of 15 schools with magnet programs -- up from seven schools last year. About 6,000 students will attend the magnet programs, some of which fill whole schools while others involve fewer than 100 students in community schools.

The county's five alternative schools, designed for secondary students whose behavior is too disruptive for regular classrooms, will double their capacities, to about 600.

A former special education school, Chatsworth Elementary in Reisterstown, will house a variety of programs, including more than 300 students in a new multi-age program that groups younger children by age and developmental level rather than by grade. The program will have large groups of 5-, 6- and FTC 7-year-olds with several teachers rather than traditional kindergartens, first and second grades. The school will also house a program for emotionally disturbed youngsters.

At the high school level, the southeastern PEP program is the outgrowth of another innovation: the four-period high school day, which started in four county schools last year and is spreading, especially to schools in the southeast.

Replacing the traditional day in which subjects are spread out over seven periods, the four-period schedule allows students to accumulate high school credits faster and frees blocks of time to allow them to pursue a dual course of study.

"The impetus for this was the change in the county schools' schedule," said college Dean of Students Leonard Mancini. "It freed up time for kids . . . to take some college courses."

So, as their high school classmates languished through their last day of vacation, the PEP students ventured into college. For Cybil and Elizabeth, the lessons came quickly. First, they learned that professors sometimes don't show up for class, even on the first day. The Psychology 101 instructor was observing the Jewish holiday Rosh Hashana, so the girls got a break, having only to sign in and pick up a syllabus.

Second, college textbooks are no small investment. As the two lounged outside the college's administration offices, a classmate held up a short stack of books and called out, "Ninety-four dollars."

The gasps were audible.

The college's foundation is giving the PEP students half of their tuition -- $54 a credit hour -- but they must pay the rest, plus book costs. Patapsco senior Joe Cooper said he is paying his tuition himself because his mother didn't want him to take the college courses.

"She thought it was too much," explained Joe, who is taking gifted-and-talented calculus, English and history at Patapsco, plus communications and psychology at Dundalk. He also has a part-time job at a nearby Western Auto store.

Joe's classmate Troy Hoskins said his mother liked the idea of his "getting a head start on college." Troy hopes to attend Dundalk two years and then transfer to the University of Maryland Baltimore County to become a physical therapist.

He's taking college English and a four-credit biology course at Dundalk. That gives him a full schedule, especially on Thursdays, when he starts at 7:45 a.m. with trigonometry, then high school English, college English and a two-hour college biology lab.

Dundalk admissions counselor Vikki Whitmore is overseeing PEP, getting the students acclimated and preparing to monitor their progress. She and others said they won't be treated differently from other students.

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