Interested in the Fernbank School Program? You’ve Come to the Right Place

Luiza Douglas, Senior Editor

“I learned that it’s actually significantly harder to get away with murders than people assume it is,” said junior Alex Miller (‘23), who studied forensics at Fernbank and is learning valuable life skills.

Each year, the Fernbank Science Center offers an advanced studies program that offers hands-on investigations into a variety of specialized areas of science. Students have the opportunity to study with qualified instructors while working in well-equipped laboratories or traveling into the field to get first-hand experience.

The courses are provided tuition-free to any high school student in the DeKalb County School District in grades 10-12, although there is a fee to apply to the program. The courses are available to students outside of the DeKalb County School District on a space-available basis and may have additional fees. Students can apply through the FSC Advanced Studies Student Application. There are no apparent deadlines for applying, but seats in the classes are first come, first serve.

“There was nursing, cosmetology, auto engineering, computer science, criminal law of justice, and more. […] I chose criminal law and justice because my goal sophomore year was to become a forensic scientist,” said senior Sammy Hubbard (‘22).

There are many unique classes to choose from that students may not experience at Chamblee, such as equine studies.

“This year I’m doing the epidemiology class and I chose it because I’m specifically interested in […] the study of diseases,” said sophomore Ingrid Plemper (‘24).

These STEM courses range across the spectrum, though, fulfilling almost every scientific niche.

“Last semester I did Ecosystems Alive, which was basically just like an ecology class that focused on our region,” said senior Luca Antinozzi (‘22).

You’re interested in the program … now what? 

Before applying, make sure to get your schedule in check.

“I couldn’t take any AP’s freshman year because you basically double up on some required courses the first semester so you don’t have to take them the next semester. [I had to take] health and personal fitness in the same semester,” said Antinozzi.

With your schedule now in consideration, it’s time for the application process, which, for former applicants, seems to be pretty straightforward.

“The application process is pretty easy. You just go to their website and then it’s linked there in the applications tab. You fill out the important information and get a recommendation from your science teacher and write a brief paragraph about why you want to take the class,” said Plemper.

The application is along the lines of other applications students may have to fill out.

“You have to write an essay that’s like a statement of interest,” said sophomore Mia Sandfort (‘24).

The application also requires some academic information, like GPA, so having a bit higher of one can assist in getting into competitive courses.

You’ve been accepted, what can you expect?

First off, the classes don’t operate like the traditional Chamblee classrooms.

“They rotate teachers every week, and we learn about something new,” said sophomore Mackenzie Cassidy (‘24).

Unlike the packed Chamblee classrooms with up to 45 students in one room, Fernbank has small class sizes.

“I was one of three Chamblee students in the class. Admittedly, there were only nine students in the class,” said Miller.

With the limited number of students, the classes become more hands-on.

“One day, I was like, ‘Oh I kind of want to do this experiment and do this modification with this experiment,’ and he was like, ‘Okay we can totally do that,’ and then we did it. It was really great. There’s a lot of student-teacher involvement in the program,” said Miller.

The class schedule is also different from regular school.

“You only go twice a week, but you don’t have a seventh period ever,” said Antinozzi.

The program takes up 2-3 class periods of the regular school day, similar to dual enrolling, so make sure to work in required credits into your schedule before you apply.

Pros and cons

Though the program is a learning opportunity for students, it also opens doors for more creative opportunities that would not be regularly available at Chamblee.

“We semi-exploded a pumpkin. […] We broke a glass with slingshots or left a piece of meat outside for a couple of months and then went to analyze the maggots that had formed on it,” said Miller.

Fernbank also hosts off-campus learning opportunities.

“The great thing about Fernbank is it’s really easy for them to do field trips as they have fewer students and a bus. Last semester with my Ecosystems Alive class, we went to Tennessee and we snorkeled and surveyed fish,” said Antinozzi.

Though the program provides numerous opportunities, some might be limited due to current circumstances.

“I was considered for an internship to work at the crime lab in Atlanta, but I couldn’t do it because of COVID,” said Hubbard.

Open internship opportunities are frequently provided to the students attending.

“My teacher posted about this summer program at the CDC, which is cool. It’s like a disease detective [course],” said Sandfort.

However, there are some cons to the program.

“I would be careful because they do not provide parking for this program and you have to get there yourself. Make sure you have a way to get there. They will not let you get a parking spot to do this program,” said Miller.

While the drive can be one of the drawbacks of the afternoon courses, for morning classes, transportation used to be provided in the form of a neighborhood bus, but this option is no longer provided.

Students should also know that according to the program website, more than three unexcused absences can result in their removal from the class.

For students considering the program, one alum has some advice.

“Just a word of warning, though. It is a class. If you’re thinking about doing it, don’t go in there expecting it to just be playtime or whatever, it’s just the actual class,” said Sandfort. “We have to do the assignments or you’ll get a bad grade, but I would totally recommend it to others because it’s really fun.”