In the fall of 2013, Ben Baker hopes to be striding among palm trees as a first-year student at Arizona State University.
For now, the junior at East Valley High School will be content with the pine forest near his current campus while earning college credits through a unique program facilitated through a trio of state universities.
Baker is one of over 100 East Valley students enrolled in entry-level college courses that are tacked on to a typical high school schedule. The concept is similar to the traditional Running Start program, with one major exception – students do not have to travel to a college campus to qualify. Classes are taught by half-a-dozen EVHS teachers, all of whom have been selected by the colleges facilitating the collaboration – Eastern Washington University, Central Washington University and the University of Washington.
Topics include English, math, Spanish, French and history. In the case of EWU, there is no cost for college credits earned through program. Central Washington and the University of Washington charge $250 for five credits.
Baker, a track and football athlete who has taken Advanced Placement classes since starting at EVHS, says the emphasis on college curriculum has helped him prepare for academics beyond high school.
“You definitely learn time management,” he said. “If you’re not organized, you won’t be successful.”
Students must take five traditional high school classes in addition to any college-level courses. Baker said the combination of AP classes (where students take tests after each syllabus to qualify for college credits) and the new college accreditation could well earn him a two-year Associates degree before graduating from high school.
Participation in East Valley’s AP program has increased in each of the last three years with the numbers well over 200 for the 2011-12 academic year. Test scores have also improved every year since 2008.
Research shows that AP students fare better at college as compared to mainstream high school students. Among East Valley graduates from the class of 2009 who moved on to a college or university, 90 percent of former AP students remained enrolled in their second year as opposed to only 70 percent of traditional students.
East Valley Superintendent John Glenewinkel said the college accreditation idea – also in place at West Valley and Cheney high schools – got its start at EVHS when parents in the district expressed concern that the AP structure at the school could stand improvement.
“One of the major complaints is that we weren’t competing with our AP classes,” Glenewinkel said. “Now there’s been a significant attitude shift.”
Peggy Estey, an East Valley instructor who teaches History 110, says students who challenge themselves with college-level work learn about the academic rigors of the post-high school world while instructors in the program have become better teachers.
“I think all educators should be challenged in what they teach,” said Estey, who also serves as an adjunct teacher in the education department at Gonzaga University.
A recent survey of East Valley students found that 87 percent would like to attend a four-year college or university. Some 30 percent would be the first person in their family to move on to college.
“A lot of students arrive here without college aspirations,” said Steve Pointer, dean of curriculum at East Valley. “Now they’re talking about college.”