Six eighth-graders earn way into Kean University dual-enrollment program

Six Linden Public Schools eighth-graders have been accepted into the Kean University Scholar Academy, a unique program that selects the best and brightest incoming high school freshman and gives them the opportunity to earn enough credits to be college juniors by the time they graduate high school.

The students who earned this honor are Emily Avila, Pipelewaoluwa Olanrewaju, Joshua Siegel and Mohamed Gueye from McManus Middle School, and Tilelli Oukhellou and Savonne Johnson from Soehl Middle School.

“We are so proud of these students and all they have achieved,” said Superintendent Dr. Marnie Hazelton. “Thank you to Kean University and Dr. Repollet for giving these exemplary young adults the chance to get a leg up on continuing their education after high school at great financial savings and accelerated rate.”

McManus Middle School Principal Atiya Perkins, eighth-graders Joshua Siegel and Pipelewaoluwa Olanrewaju, Superintendent Dr. Marnie Hazelton, eighth-graders Emily Avila and Mohamed Gueye, and science teacher Brenda Kaneaster.

The Kean Scholar Academy is a dual-enrollment initiative that offers students the opportunity to earn credits and participate in pre-college mentorships, internships, and other enrichment activities that support their academic journey toward college. The students will participate in a three-week summer orientation at Kean’s Union and Skylands campuses to learn about the college experience and meet members of their cohort from other schools. Students in the program are not required to attend Kean University, but can take those credits to get a head start if they choose to go to college elsewhere.

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“I am beyond thrilled that we are able to offer this to our students,” said Isabella Scocozza, director of grants and federal funding, who coordinated the implementation of the program for the district. “As a first-generation college graduate, I realize it is important to provide these opportunities to our students within the Linden Public Schools at an early age.”

Scocozza reached out to Kean University to set up the partnership that allows Linden to participate in the Kean Scholar Academy. She then worked with school counselors to reach out to students who may be interested and coordinated a parent night with Kean staff to review the program for families.

Soehl Middle School eighth-grader Tilelli Oukhellou, Principal Gwendolyn Long, eighth-grader Savonne Johnson, school counselor Natalie Perez-Sudah, and Superintendent Dr. Marnie Hazelton.

Students had to fill out applications with the help of school counselors, write a college essay, and submit documents on grades and attendance records.

“Not every student got into the program, and it was quite competitive,” Scocozza said. “These students competed against hundreds of others throughout the state.”

The process culminated with their formal acceptance when Kean President Dr. Lamont Repollet and Kean Scholar Academy administrators visited Linden on June 8 to welcome the six students to Kean. Repollet is a former New Jersey commissioner of education who spoke at the Linden High School commencement in 2018. He created the Kean Scholar Academy out of a desire to see New Jersey higher education work more closely with K-12 education.

Kean University President Dr. Lamont Repollet congratulates Linden’s selectees for the Kean University Scholar Academy.

“We are excited to welcome you to the Cougar family,” Repollet told the students at the formal acceptance. “We wanted to create a unique experience for students. My theory is that if we challenge our students and provide them with supports, then they can achieve anything they want. We’re going to support them social and emotionally, academically, but we’re going to give them a true college experience.”

He said that in the first year of the program, they have a high retention rate of students and that the students are excelling in high school.

One of the administrators who accompanied Repollet was Dr. Brian Zachowski, Kean’s vice president for Entrepreneurial Education Initiatives, who grew up in Linden and attended Soehl and LHS. He mentioned the Kean motto, “Cougars Climb Higher.”

He then added, “And Tigers make great Cougars.”

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