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High School Freshmen Adjust - to College Life

Posted: February 17, 2008 2:14 a.m.
Updated: April 19, 2008 5:02 a.m.

Erum Jones, principal of the Early High School Program of the Sierra Highway COC campus, talks with some of her students during their lunch break Tuesday afternoon. Eight-six of her students are taking college courses while working to garner their high school diploma.

Starting high school can be a huge adjustment for a freshman, but throw some college classes into the mix and that transition becomes even more challenging.

Last fall, 86 ninth-graders from William S. Hart Union High School District decided to accept that challenge and, according to the statistics from their first semester at the new Early College High School, those students are well on their way to graduating after just four years with both a high school diploma and two years of college under their belts.

"I knew it was going to be hard - and it was a little hard - but then I got used to it," said Rosa Orellana, 14. "I was always going to go to college and high school at the same time, so when I found out about this program, it was perfect for me."

Early college high schools blend high school and college, compressing the time is takes to complete the requirements for a high school diploma and the first two years of college. Since the idea was initiated in 2002, more than 130 such schools have opened in 24 states, including 29 in California.

The Hart district, in partnership with College of the Canyons, opened the school last fall on COC's new Canyon Country campus, where early college high school students attend five high school classes each day while taking two carefully selected college classes at COC. Currently serving only freshmen, the school will add one grade per year until it offers a full four-year high school program, with a projected enrollment of about 400 students.

"The first semester actually went better than I had hoped," said Principal Erum. "It was a pretty smooth transition, and the kids have done a phenomenal job."

A majority of early college high school students, 60 percent, earned a grade point average of 3.0 and higher in their first semester high school classes, with 24 percent of students earning a GPA of 4.0 and higher. On the college front, early college high school students attempted 304 college credits, with a 92 percent completion rate. The average GPA was 2.63 for college courses, and 47 percent of the students maintained a college GPA of 3.0 or higher.

"Looking at our academic results for the first semester, I can enthusiastically answer 'yes' to the question, 'Can a 13-year-old really be successful in college?'" Jones said.

The Hart district received start-up funds for the school from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. According to the Early College High School Initiative Web site, "the schools are designed so that low-income youth, first-generation college goers, English language learners, students of color, and other young people underrepresented in higher education" can earn a high school diploma and college credits simultaneously.

"We paid special attention to extend the opportunity to students who will be the first in their family to attend college, because that is the focus of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation," said Vicki Engbrecht, assistant superintendent of educational services for the Hart district. "But any student who fit the minimum qualifications for the program was given an interview, and if it looked like they would benefit from the program, they were accepted."

A handful of students transferred out at the end of the first semester for various reasons, Jones said.

"A couple of kids had grades that were an issue, so transferring them back to traditional high school seemed like a better option," Jones said. A couple of kids decided they preferred a traditional high school setting, and one or two students moved out of the district, she said.

To take the place of these students, five freshmen transferred into early college high school in January after trying out the traditional high school scene and opting for a smaller campus and the opportunity to get college credits. Bijan Motamedi, 14, transferred from West Ranch.

"There are more opportunities here, like being able to take college classes," Motamedi said. "I'll have more of a chance of getting into a better college."

Motamedi said he was interested in early college high school after hearing about it in eighth grade, but decided to go to West Ranch to be with his friends and just to have a traditional high school experience.

"It was okay, but I realized I could graduate from here with my associates degree, so I decided to think of my future," he said.

While there is no athletic program at the school, Jones said it has activities, and organizers hope to add more as the school grows.

"They can also attend other school dances and athletic events, since they are part of the Hart district," Jones said.

"Plus they're getting the college experience, and they can go to college events."

Orellana said she is happy at early college high school and doesn't feel like she is missing out on anything.

"You don't get the whole high school experience, but at the same time, you finish college earlier and you get to start your career earlier," she said. "Most people don't get an opportunity to do something like this."


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