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Helsel, Schankowitz and Staack are the first SHS students to complete the LCCC Early College Program

Perhaps you are familiar with the following quote about camping.

“Time camping isn’t time spent, it’s invested.” – Unknown

For Maggie Helsel and Sarah Staack the quote could be said to ring true.

When Helsel joined Staack’s family for a camping trip a few years ago, Staack and her parents talked about registering for the Lehigh Carbon Community College Early College Program.

Helsel liked what she heard and decided to register as well.

In the process the longtime friends invested in their future.

Earlier this spring Helsel, Staack and classmate Naiya Schankowitz shared the distinction of being the first Salisbury Township School District students to complete the LCCC Early College Program.

Each earned an associate of arts degree in general studies from LCCC and a Salisbury High School diploma.

Schankowitz, like Helsel and Staack, saw the opportunity as an investment in her future.

When asked why she took on the program Schankowitz replied, “Because it would give me a head start on everything else.”

Students in the program take two full academic years of college courses in humanities, mathematics, science and social science courses. The college credits earned at LCCC often are transferable and students have an opportunity to explore a variety of interests at the same time as well as tap into college services such as advising and the college library.

Helsel took the opportunity to study sign language and explore science courses not offered at SHS. Staack, who enjoys languages, studied Arabic. Schankowitz took business classes for her electives in anticipation of opening her own business.

Enrollment in the LCCC Early College Program requires high school students to commit their junior and senior years to study at the community college. In Lehigh County, the community college’s early college program is open to students from Allentown, Catasauqua, East Penn, Northern Lehigh, Northwestern Lehigh, Parkland, Salisbury, Southern Lehigh and Whitehall Coplay schools.

“Obviously, we’re extremely proud of these three young women and their accomplishments,” Salisbury High School Principal Heather Morningstar said in an email to The Press June 15. “Their drive to succeed was evident quite early in their high school careers when they determined this was the path they wished to pursue. Doing so required a significant level of commitment and forethought, both academic and personal.”

The college course load in the LCCC Early College Program is rigorous. For example, in a single semester Helsel took two labs along with courses in ethics, macroeconomics, environmental science and biology.

“In order to be enrolled at LCCC full-time, all three young women made difficult choices (and some sacrifices) to achieve their goals. They are certainly strong role models for future students wishing to pursue this option in that they never lost sight of their goals and were very successful in their pursuits,” Morningstar continued.

Pandemic protocols further altered the college experience for Helsel, Schankowitz and Staack. Many classes were remote in the early part of their community college careers, including labs, as COVID-19 gripped the Lehigh Valley and much of the nation.

However, given LCCC’s experience in offering classes remotely, courses continued without interruption.

All also maintained connections to the SHS community. Schankowitz and Helsel continued their high school field hockey careers as Falcons. Staack volunteered as part of National Honor Society and participated in Class Advisory, cross-country and rifle. And then there were football and basketball games, the senior prom and the class trip, Schankowitz added.

“I missed the high school community,” Staack said in an interview via Zoom.

However, the three new LCCC and SHS alums said the early college program was worth the commitment.

Schankowitz and Helsel encouraged fellow field hockey athletes to consider the program. Staack gave a presentation about her experiences in the program at the May 11 meeting of the Salisbury Township School District board of directors and has set an example for her younger brother.

Schankowitz sites the cost effectiveness of the program as among the benefits of enrolling. With general study requirements now accomplished, Schankowitz will enter Kutztown University as a transfer student this fall followed by culinary school. Staack will study languages at Indiana University in Bloomington with a particular interest in the Russian Flagship program offered there. Helsel will enter the zoo science program at Delaware Valley University.

Schankowitz recently reread a letter she wrote to her future self as an assignment in fifth grade at what is now Salisbury Elementary School. Much of what she wrote remains true, she said, including her then plans for the future. Many of the friends mentioned in the letter she has stayed close to and she does not see that changing.

The letter, she said, showed “how much I valued my friendships,” Schankowitz said.

Helsel and Staack will go camping together again, they said.

“We’ll figure it out,” Staack said.

Contributed Photo Maggie Helsel, Naiya Schankowitz and Sarah Staack are the first Salisbury High School students to complete the Lehigh Carbon Community College Early College Program, each earning an associate degree in general studies as well as a SHS high school diploma. ABOVE: Maggie Helsel, Naiya Schankowitz and Sarah Staack celebrate their achievement at Salisbury High School's graduation ceremony June 5.