Education Week - June 2, 2016 - Diplomas Count - (Page 10)

PRINCIPLE Mastery of a Rigorous, Relevant Curriculum Students in El Paso Get Leg Up on College A network of early-college high schools on the Texas border is nudging first-generation students onto the path to college. By Liana Heitin B EL PASO, TEXAS y the time they get to senior year, many students have had it with high school work, and in some cases, they're able to find ways to take a few college courses early. But here in sunny El Paso, nestled between two mountain ranges on the Mexican border, a unique and purposeful symbiosis has emerged among several of the city's public school districts and its higher education institutions. Students in specialized programs-the majority of whom are Hispanic, first-generation college-goers, and from low-income families-can move fluidly from high school classes through an associate degree and on to university courses all between the 9th and 12th grades. The result is that over the last seven years, more than 1,000 students who under business-as-usual circumstances might never have gone to college have graduated with or are working their way through four-year degrees, or even accelerated master's programs. And nearly all those students left high school with at least two years of college work-and college costs-behind them. "This is a pathway for students who don't want the big social high school with the cheerleading and all the stuff that goes with it," said Donna Ekal, the associate provost for undergraduate studies at the University of Texas at El Paso, who coordinates the early-college program. "They want an education-no frills. ... [It's] an opportunity for them to do that in a way where their peer groups are supportive and the bar is high." El Paso currently has nine early-college high schools, which are the small, accelerated programs these students attend starting in 9th grade. Across the country, there are about 300 early-college high schools-more than half of which are in Texas. The education department has been supportive of dual enrollment for high school and college, according to a March 2016 report by the national nonprofit Jobs for the Future. The crossschool partnerships in El Paso are verging on being "a truly seamless system from grade 9 through the bachelor's degree," the report says, and they "hold lessons for early-college advocates and leaders." While about a third of students attending early-college high schools nationally come out of 12th grade with an associate degree, in El Paso, nearly every early-college student gets one before graduating from high school. 10 | Education Week Diplomas Count * June 2, 2016 In the beginning of the program, just the community colleges were working with the early colleges. But many students were finishing their associate degree and continuing to accumulate community college credits that would not transfer to a university. So starting five years ago, UTEP got involved as well. Now, students who finish their associate degree with time to spare can start working on a bachelor's degree right away. Several of El Paso's early-college high schools are located right next to an El Paso Community College campus, though a few are in more remote areas, requiring students to be transported by bus to the community college. The way it generally works is: As freshmen and sophomores, early-college students take a series of advanced courses, including one that teaches study skills and organization. Some take a community college class the summer after 9th grade, jumping right into higher education. In 11th grade, students start heading over to the community college for part of the school day. Senior year, students who've completed the 60 credits for an associate degree go to the university campus part time. The community college system waives tuition and fees for early-college students who attend classes there, and the students' school district generally pays for textbooks. Students who go to UTEP while still in high school and maintain a 3.0 grade point average receive scholarships from the university. Targeting At-Risk Students Class schedules, curricula alignment, degree requirements, transportation, and finances pose ongoing challenges for administrators at all the involved schools. The intricate partnerships that enable this work have developed over the past decade and are continually evolving. Logistically, it's a heavy lift. "There's three entities I have to keep track of, and there's only one of me," said Gustavo Alvarado, the counselor at the 480-student Mission Early College High School, referring to the district, the community college, and the university. Alvarado works with a counselor at the Mission community college campus, right across the parking lot, to iron out scheduling and credit issues. A couple of years ago, UTEP opened an academic center that specifically supports early-college students-and that's made a huge

Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of Education Week - June 2, 2016 - Diplomas Count

Education Week - Diplomas Count - June 2, 2016
For Better High Schools, Coherence May Be Key
Taking Students’ Voices to Heart
One Student’s Quest To Reshape Schools
Students in El Paso Get Leg Up On College
In Omaha, a Chance To Try Out a Career
Classroom and City Merge in Cleveland
Citizens Get a Say In Boston Redesign
A Bold Reinvention Gets a Rocky Start
Minn. High School Built for ‘Flexibility’
In Ark., Going Big On a Human Scale
U.S. Graduation Rate Reaches a New High

Education Week - June 2, 2016 - Diplomas Count