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Getting a jump on life through Early College

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By Special to The Sun


What do you call graduating from high school with an associate degree?

Just the beginning for some students at Washington County High School.
The school’s Early College program – a partnership with St. Catharine College and Elizabethtown Community and Technical College – is off to a good start in its first year, focusing on students who would be the first in their families to attend college and those from lower socioeconomic backgrounds.
The 25 juniors in the inaugural class could actually receive a college diploma before receiving one from Washington County, “given the early May date of college graduation and late May date of high school graduations,” said Principal Paul Terrell, with a proud smile.
“A year’s planning has gone into this,” he said. “We selected students by looking at free and reduced lunch (eligibility), first-generation college goers, and ethnicity. It’s a very diverse group.”
Those students also had to meet certain PLAN test scores, which predict their future ACT test results.
“The demographic piece is what makes our program different,” said Cherry Boyles, director of instruction. “Other middle and early colleges are looking at students who are so advanced that they can move them on. We were looking at students where college may not have even been in their mindset.”
Washington County was able to put this program together with the help of a $100,000 planning grant from the Kentucky Department of Education.
“Even as we were writing this grant, we started pulling in partners from St. Catharine and ECTC,” Boyles said. “We have offered dual-credit courses here before, where students could pay tuition and take the class. So we really had to define what made this different as a program, different from just taking a dual-credit class. And from there, our partners were really good at helping us define pathways.”
Students selecting ECTC can participate in three program paths: machine tool, industrial maintenance and electrical technology. Students on the St. Catharine path can choose liberal arts or interdisciplinary early childhood education.
For now, St. Catharine College is offering scholarships for those students who qualify for free and reduced lunch. Tuition students have been given a discount rate of $40 per credit hour, as opposed to the normal $120. The district also is beginning an endowment fund and looking for grants to assist with tuition and fees for those who cannot pay.
“We’re not going to let tuition be a factor in them not being able to attend,” said school board Chairwoman Patsy Lester. “It’s such a small amount compared to what it would be if they went later on their own.”
Guidance counselor Lolita Blanton said there are four teachers for the Early College cohort.
“The teachers are kind of like adjunct professors,” she said. “Each one of them has seven-eight students who they mentor so if a student has a problem or a question they can come to their advisor, or they can talk to me, Mr. Terrell ... but it gives them a contact person they can talk to.”
She said the Early College students are either in an Algebra 1.5/2 class or precalculus. By the end of this year, the plan is for them to complete English 101 and 102 as well as an English literature class. Their other requirements for high school graduation, such as social studies, arts and humanities and chemistry, will also be taught as dual-credit courses.
“Students will get to branch out more into these classes in second or third trimester if they are interested,” Blanton said. “Those interested in the ECTC path can take a blueprint reading class. A world religion class will be available through St. Catharine or early childhood development, which, when students finish that, they’ll be certified to work in a day care.”
Students could graduate from high school with certification in up to three areas offered through ECTC, making them eligible for employment right away.
Blanton said most students are in the liberal arts path because of its broad range of subjects.
“We don’t yet know all of the classes they’ll be able to take in their senior year, but we’re hoping they will be able to take some electives in some specific fields they are interested in, such as medical or criminology,” she said.
In addition to college-level courses, students are also being exposed to college life, with trips to the University of Kentucky, Transylvania University and Bluegrass Community and Technical College, as well as a districtwide focus on the importance of postsecondary education.
“Outside of the school and in the hallways, we have banners and signs proclaiming this is a college campus, these are college classrooms,” Terrell said. “When you walk down the halls, you will also see signs outside each teacher’s classroom with his or her name and where they attended college. Our students are always reminded of the importance of college and how it’s needed to be successful.”
The message is hitting home with the Early College students.
“It was a drastic step up in expectations, but it’s very appealing,” said junior John Martinez. “It requires a lot of discipline, but it’s nice to feel independent.”
Student David Haydon said there was no question about his participation in the program.
“When my Mom found out about this, she was like, ‘You have to do this, you have to do this! If you can get in, you’re doing this,’” he said.
If things go as planned, Boyles said the school will enroll a new class of juniors each year.
“One of the commitments we put in the grant is that by 2013, every senior who leaves Washington County High School will have a postsecondary experience,” she said. “Even as we were delivering the grant, we were questioning whether we wanted to say that, because that’s a large statement. But now, as everything has grown, we realize we can make that because if a student fails to have a postsecondary experience, it’s because they fought us and missed all of the opportunities because there are such broad opportunities now.”