Many high school seniors have their sights set on the end of their final year: graduation, parties and a summer of fun between finishing their last exam and beginning their next academic undertaking.
But a group of Heritage Academy seniors in Columbus have their sights set much farther ahead. They're actually enrolled in college-level classes earning credit through Mississippi University for Women. Thanks to a partnership established just this year, 35 students are enrolled in dual-credit English composition classes through The W and 12 are enrolled in Calculus I. It's the first such dual-credit articulation agreement with The W, said Headmaster Greg Carlyle.
"It started with a conversation with Dr. Sue Jolly Smith of education, and we went from there," he recalled. "We worked with Dr. Marty Hatton and Dr. Thomas Richardson to develop a memorandum of understanding, which was signed by President Borsig and Heritage Aug. 1, and we're offering this option to our students who qualify."
Dual-credit and dual-enrollment programs follow Mississippi Department of Education guidelines, explained Dr. Richardson, interim provost and vice president for academic affairs. Students are able to earn both high school and college credit and get a leg up on their college requirements. "We've offered these courses for many years to students at the Mississippi School for Mathematics and Science, and we're in the process of renewing our collaboration with Columbus High School," he explained.
Headmaster Carlyle called the arrangement a "win-win."
"It's a great opportunity for college credit that also gives students a meaningful challenge," he said. One advantage, he noted, is that the courses are incorporated into students' regular school days, allowing them to pursue their extracurricular interests. "It's the best of both worlds for our students." In fact, Carlyle would like to see the academic options expanded.
Ms. Brenda Polk, who teaches the English composition I class, said it meets Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays at Heritage, and students pursue their normal senior studies the remaining two days of the week. A former community college English instructor, Polk was certified to teach as a W adjunct and developed an approved syllabus for the semester's work. "The composition class requires a lot of higher order thinking skills," she explained. "Students are learning to think for themselves."
Her students agree. Nick Ellis, who has already set his sights on a particular university, said his dual-credit work is giving him material to write a college entrance essay. "For the descriptive essay assignment, I chose a prompt that I'll be using when I write an essay to apply to Vanderbilt," he said. His essay described a moment that helped change his life—a narrative that required reflection as well as descriptive writing. In another assignment that asked him to recall an experience, he described a family beach trip that helped his family grow closer together.
This kind of writing, said student Kat Kerby, helps students "step out of our normal boundaries. Most of the writing we've done until now is informative; now, we're discussing our lives. We can't write like we did last year if we're writing for college." This is exactly the experience that both Heritage and The W intended for the dual-credit program. Students are pushed to stretch their abilities, writing approximately eight to 10 college-level essays. The classes require more preparation, more thought and a deeper challenge.
With this kind of experience, Ellis said, he feels confident that he's prepared for the next step. "Heritage is a challenging school," he said. "I know I can meet college and university challenges now."
Students in Dr. Agnes Carino's Calculus I class also are meeting university challenges. Twelve Heritage Academy students are enrolled in the class taught on The W campus, and "I don't treat them any differently," she said.
"The high school students are doing as well as the college students," she added. "They like to ask questions, which is a good thing, and they'll often email me to clarify." She has had to make some minor adjustments. The Heritage students, for instance, don't have access to Blackboard, an online resource The W uses to post class materials, videos, and other resources. But the adjustments are minor, and a math software the class uses is helping all of the students.
Lauren Pole, one of the Heritage students enrolled in Calculus I, is getting a head start on her goal of becoming a doctor. "I really like math," she said. "This class is definitely challenging. It's different from everything I've done until now." But she feels confident enough in her abilities that she's planning to take Calculus II, also on The W campus.
For both Polk and Carino, the experience of teaching college-level courses to high school students is proving rewarding. Both enjoy seeing the students expand their abilities and grow.
And Heritage students, for their part, are responding enthusiastically. There was so much interest in the English composition class that Polk said she teaches two sections of the course. Next semester she'll also teach English composition II. "This is a big advantage for the students," she said. "I'm ecstatic that this worked out."