DERRY | About 30 Pinkerton Academy seniors are first in line for the school's new honors diploma.

A total of around 60 juniors and seniors are enrolled in the honors diploma program, which requires students to take several of the school's more rigorous courses, attend seminars on top of their regular class load, and write and defend thesis statements. This is the first year the school will offer an honors diploma.

"These are our best and the brightest," said Deb O'Connor, who heads the honors program and the school's science department.

Junior Kelsey Flagg of Derry said she thought the honors diploma program would be a good opportunity to take her studies to the next level and give her a competitive edge when applying to college. She plans to apply to schools like Bowdoin College in Maine.

The honors diploma program is five years in the making, according to Chris Harper, dean of academic affairs at the academy. He said it aims to help students when it comes time to apply to college and spotlight their extra work.

Many college applications ask students to list their advanced placement and honors courses on the first page, but Pinkerton hadn't had "honors courses" until 2002.

"We were concerned that we were shortchanging the students," O'Connor said.

So Pinkerton bumped up the rigor of some of its A-level classes to make them honors courses. Math, English, science and foreign language have honors offerings. The social studies department has no honors courses, O'Connor said, noting that the department believed its several Advanced Placement classes are its most rigorous courses.

Pinkerton has nine honors courses and 17 Advanced Placement courses for the 2007-2008 school year.

The honors diploma program is geared toward synthesizing what students learn across multiple disciplines. It requires students to take at least six credits of honors or Advanced Placement courses over at least three subject areas. Each class is one credit, except some science classes include a half-credit lab.

Students also must attend six of eight seminars offered during their junior year and prepare five thesis statements based on their seminar experiences and honors course work. They'll be asked to defend three of their thesis statements before the honors committee.

O'Connor said the academy has turned down two applications for the program because they did not meet basic criteria. The academy requires students to hold an 88 percent average in the subject they want to take as honors or Advanced Placement, as well as take A-level classes for courses other than honors and Advanced Placement.

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