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Students in St. Paul’s summer program not ready to say goodbye

St. Paul’s Advanced Studies Program isn’t your average summer camp.

For 5½ weeks this summer, 267 students from 76 New Hampshire high schools came to the Concord school to pursue their academic passions and get a taste of the social conventions they will experience when they go to college. In its 57th year, the program is for high-achieving New Hampshire students to earn academic credit for an intensive academic program of their choice while living on St. Paul’s campus.

It’s a program designed to help students grow academically and personally and to learn about how they can contribute to the world. At yesterday’s graduation ceremony, Gov. Maggie Hassan encouraged the students to get involved in their communities and continue following their passions right here in New Hampshire.

“We need each of you to be engaged,” she told the graduates during her keynote address. “We are a state that combines a sense of community and independence like no other. . . . We need your talent and energy to keep our state moving forward.”

Each student takes a writing workshop as well as an academic course of their choice, ranging from marine biology to advanced mathematics to studio art. Students are in classes for 23 hours each week and are expected to spend roughly the same amount of outside time on class work and projects. They also live in the St. Paul’s dormitories, supervised by interns and other employees, giving them an introduction into what they can expect if they go away to a four-year college. The close-knit environment offers the students an opportunity to make fast friendships, and it was clear yesterday that the students weren’t ready to leave just yet.

“Some of the girls here are like sisters to me now, and it’s funny how five weeks ago we were complete strangers and now I don’t want to leave them,” said Jessa Kennett, a Colebrook Academy student.

Kennett studied in the Ancient Greece program. In those classes and her writing workshop, Kennett said she grew academically.

“They pushed you to challenge yourself in what you do,” she said. “You were given assignments that you thought, ‘Oh my gosh, I could never do this,’ but you accomplished it and it’s that feeling of you can, that assurance that it will get easier and you can get through it.”

The program is only open to students from public and parochial New Hampshire schools, as well as home-schooled students who live in the state, Director Michael Ricard said. It costs $3,850 to attend, but 41 percent of students receive need-based financial aid. St. Paul’s does not profit off the program, he said. At many schools, students who are in the top percent of their class academically are encouraged to apply. Indeed, a huge draw of the program is bringing together academically engaged students.

For Matt Curran, a Nashua High School North student in the advanced mathematics program, his favorite part of the summer was “just spending time with people who enjoy intellectual conversation.”

Many of the students who go through the program come back later as interns, house parents who preside over the dorms or as teachers. State Supreme Court Justice Gary Hicks went through the program as a student from Colebrook and sits on its board of overseers today. The program became an influential part of his life, as he met his wife while studying there, he said at yesterday’s graduation ceremony.

As Hassan encouraged the students to consider building their own lives in New Hampshire, she also reminded them that there is no perfect path to success for anyone.

“It’s important to remember the path you end up on might not be the one you first expected,” Hassan said. “There is no formula, no pre-determined set of steps that works for everybody.”

But one thing that remains constant, she told them, is the value of a good education. Combine that with a summer spent making new friends on a beautiful campus, and St. Paul’s Advanced Studies Program has found the formula for success.

“Just the overall experience of ASP was amazing,” said Concord High student Thomas Bengtson. “The people at ASP were probably the nicest and most amazing people I’ve ever met in my life, and most of them I’ll be friends with for probably the rest of my life, which is something I really cherish.”

(Kathleen Ronayne can be reached at 369-3309 or kronayne@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @kronayne.)

Nice article on a great program. Too bad the reporter could not get the director's name spelled correctly.

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