Coronado High students getting jump start on college careers

       High school students sometimes call the senior year the “slacker year.”
        Not at Coronado High School. At least not the serious students.
       They're too busy taking college courses.
       The opportunity - in which students can take a wide range of low-priced, accredited college courses at the high school - may be one of Coronado's best-kept secrets.
       The anonymity does not please Jim Keating, director of the school's “CU Succeed Gold” program. He'd like the whole community to share his belief that CU Gold (as it's known) “is maybe the best in the country.”
        Between CU Gold and two similar, smaller programs, Coronado has offered more than 60 college credits to students this year.
       In CU Gold, students at the junior or senior level can sign up for an array of introductory courses which are certified with the University of Colorado at Denver's (UCD's) College of Liberal Arts and Sciences.
        The classes are taught by Coronado High teachers who have received honorarium faculty appointments from the University of Colorado, and at less than a third of the per-credit cost that students at state universities pay.
        For example, students at UCD currently shell out $160 a credit hour while CU Gold students pay $48, said Keating, who also heads up the CHS gifted and talented program.
       The cost disparity becomes even more dramatic when college side costs such as student fees and living expenses are factored in. Keating estimates these raise the cost per credit hour to nearly $400 for students at UCD, and, at some “select” colleges and universities, to more than $1,200.
       A somewhat similar college discount exists for CHS engineering students. Under Project Lead the Way, a program started six years ago by retired Engineering Department Chair Bill Lehman, students can take up to 16 early-college credit hours. Seven of these credit hours (from three classes) are accepted at the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs' (UCCS') College of Engineering, which worked with Coronado in writing the curriculum for those classes, according to current Chair Joe Merenda and engineering teacher Bryce McLean. About 120 students are taking advantage of this program.
        The other early-college program at Coronado is in cooperation with the UCD College of Education. Called a “teacher cadet” program, the classes are taught by Coronado Consumer and Family Studies Department teachers and can lead to one credit hour at UCD. Roughly 20 students are in this program.
       To teach college-level classes, CHS faculty members need appropriate certification and training. All CU Gold teachers have Ph.Ds or master's degrees, Keating said.
       “I spent approximtely 40 hours thus far just going through the process of becoming an honorary professor, including adapting my syllabus to meet CU's requirements,” physics teacher Doug Hugill said. “They have paid us a small stipend for this, but it wasn't much. We only do this so the kids have more opportunities, and to make Coronado one of the top schools that any student could attend.”
       Many, though not all, colleges outside the CU system accept the CHS college credits. For example, military schools require their four-year programs be completed in any case. And certain private colleges, such as Colorado College, just haven't been won over yet, Keating said.
       As for the engineering credits, while most statewide community colleges put all 16 credit hours on a student's transcript, they are not all transferable in all cases to four-year schools, Merenda said.
       The CU Gold program, started by Keating with former CHS Principal Lou Valdez, had just three classes and fewer than 40 students when it started six years ago. This school year, about 150 different students have taken at least one of the 13 available classes, contributing to an overall total of nearly 400 enrollments and more than 1,250 credit hours, Keating said.
        The average is one to two classes per student, although it's not unusual for some students to graduate with a year or more of college under their belts, he said.
       Subject areas cover English, American history, politics, foreign language, higher math, physics, and human geography (how people have settled the earth).
       “We've slowly developed it into the program we want it to be,” Keating said.
        He credits much of the success to a growing number of college-certified teachers at CHS. “This has become a popular place for mid-career people to teach,” he said. “That's really what's allowed this to take off.”
        Coronado Principal Susan Humphrey believes that if the public were more aware of the way early college is working at CHS it might change some negative school stereotypes. “There's this myth about kids not learning at public high schools,” she said. “Some people who don't have kids in school say education isn't as good now as it used to be. They're right. It's better.”
       For Stacy Geare, a CU Gold student who plans to have 25 college credit hours when she leaves Coronado this June, having those credits will mean a lighter course load when she starts at the University of North Carolina next fall. A national-quality club gymnast, she was awarded a partial athletic scholarship; the extra time will allow her to give more focus on competing for the school's gymnastics team.
       Of CU Gold, she said, “The opportunity seemed really great.” She credited Keating for encouraging her to try the program. “A cheaper college education is definitely a great deal… I'm getting my general education classes out of the way. Having less work at college will be nice.”
       Another student who has made heavy use of CU Gold is senior Adam Weyhrauch, who expects to be at 28 hours upon graduation from CHS.
       He said he's finding the load “difficult,” especially in this, his last semester. “I'm ready to be at a college campus,” he said. However, he added, “This is a good program and I'm saving a lot.”
       His only real disappointment is that back in Minnesota (his previous home) a similar program at the high school was free. But he has no complaints about how CHS manages CU Gold. “It gets me ready for college, big time,” he said. It's like a transition between high school and college.”
       Humphrey has a similar take. She sees value to the students over and above cost savings, by building their confidence that they can take on college materials. “The kids see that in high school they can connect to the next step,” she said.
        In the same vein, Hugill said he believes his CU Gold physics classes provide a “bridge between high school and college.” To further ease the process, he spreads out his physics lab class over three quarters instead of the two it would be at college. This allows him to teach in the hands-on manner he prefers.
       “People learn worst from lectures and best by doing it themselves,” he said. “This way takes more time (but is more effective),” he said.
       While college classes in high school may seem like hard work, Keating pointed out a trend about the “slacker year”: Students who loaf during their senior year, often have trouble getting back on pace when they go to college. So that's another reason for high-schoolers with extra time to enroll in college classes, he said.
       Early college at Coronado is open to any students, no matter how they've done in school. Humphrey particularly likes that “inclusive” aspect. “If you have the desire, you can sign up,” she said. “No one says, 'No, this is not for you.'”
        Not even to slackers.

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