In a recent speech to the NAACP, President Obama name-dropped a New York City public high school, saying that more schools should emulate Bard High School Early College and push students to earn college credits in addition to their high school diplomas. 

A recent BHSEC graduate who now attends Williams College, Kesi Augustine, explains in a Huffington Post column what makes the small, super-selective school on the Lower East Side so special. (A replica opened last year in Queens.) It’s not just that students can earn as much as two years of college credits before graduating, she writes:

The most rewarding part of my experience at BHSEC, however, WAS more than just the Associate’s degree. The school introduced me to critical thinking and writing about my place in the world. Our teachers did not give us the recipe for performing well on state-wide tests and SATs, although we performed well in that respect, too. Rather, our small classes thrived on student energy in open seminar discussions and debates about course material. …

If we are going to strive for the educational equality Obama calls for, every American student should have the education I did. I was more than prepared for success in “real” college, largely owed to what I learned at BHSEC. As a rising sophomore at Williams College, I frequently refer back to my seminar experience at Bard. During my freshman year at Williams, I was not perfect, yet I knew how to approach reading a novel a week, how to write a formal 10-page paper, and how to ask for help when I needed it. I had professors from high school I could ask for advice. I was confident in my ability to survive a difficult class. In contrast, few of my new college friends had this advantage. Students at Williams have often said, “In high school, I didn’t even have to think. Now, it’s all about thinking. I don’t know if I even trust myself to come up with something good.” I wonder how much better they would feel about their schoolwork–and their selves–if their high schools had encouraged independent thinking and critical analysis as Bard did. 

In the same sentence of his speech, Obama also praised Medgar Evers College Preparatory School, a high school in Brooklyn with a program similar to BHSEC’s.