Having already built his own computer because “it was a really fun thing to do,” Homer High School junior Thomas Vanek was looking for an avenue to pursue his interest in computers. That opportunity arrived last semester.
“I walked into the high school office and the counselor said they were having a college class that was open to high school students for computer programming and she wondered if I wanted to take it,” said Thomas. The question from Lin Hampson, HHS counselor, was about a programming class at Kachemak Bay Campus, Kenai Peninsula College-University of Alaska Anchorage.
Thomas was. And he did.
With an interest in creative writing, HHS sophomore Molly Mitchell took advantage of a similar opportunity after hearing a school announcement about an available KBC class.
“Writing is really important to me and I wanted to challenge myself, to learn more about the art of writing,” said Molly.
During the spring semester, 35 high school students from HHS, Connections and Voznesenka have been enrolled at KBC. Twenty of those students are high school seniors, enrolled through the Jump Start program, according to KBC Director Carol Swartz. The remaining 15 are high school students in grades 9-11.
“All of those high school students are taking campus-based classes,” said Swartz.
They are studying English, welding, private ground school, creative writing, history, psychology and biology.
The Jump Start program began in 1992 with funding from the Kenai Peninsula Borough, which provides up to one-tenth of a mill from property taxes to fund postsecondary education on the peninsula, said Pegge Erkeneff, spokesperson for the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District. That funding provides high school seniors with a partial tuition waiver for as many as six credits per semester. Beginning in the fall of 2014, the program will expand to also include high school juniors.
However, as Swartz pointed out, high school freshmen, sophomores and juniors already are taking college-level classes, an opportunity encouraged by former HHS Principal Allan Gee. When Doug Waclawski became principal at the beginning of the 2013-2014 school year, he pursued the idea with Swartz.
“She came over to the school and asked what we wanted and what did the kids need,” said Hampson, who already was aware of how important computer programming skills are in today’s job market. When Swartz asked what other classes there was interest in, Hampson suggested an introduction to creative writing.
To register for the college courses, high school students need to have their counselor’s signature, indicating they may take the course for their high school degree, as well as college credit.
“They need to have prerequisite skills based on the class and be able to fully attend,” said Swartz.
Attendance at all classes is no small thing, given the busy schedules of many high school students.
“These were kids who were really busy, in athletics, music, but want this so badly that they just did it,” said Hampson. “The kids are used to missing classes for athletics, but you can’t do that at college. … It’s been hard for them, but they found it so worth it.”
Being busy high school students didn’t mean expectations were lowered.
“What I loved about the class is that it was authentic grading, with attention to detail. It was so meaty and so focused on the craft of writing and all of its forms,” said Kim Fine, Molly’s mother. “I know my daughter came away with an authentic writing experience that showed her that writing is a discipline, deliberate and rigorous.”
From her perspective, Hampson sees multiple benefits of the opportunity for high school students to get a start on earning college credits. Most notable is a reduction in available scholarship dollars.
“Last year our seniors got $1.6 million in scholarships. That won’t happen this year, although we have an equally impressive group of students,” said Hampson. “The money has dried up.”
She also praised the quality of KBC faculty.
“There are incredible instructors and (Swartz) will do anything she can do if kids want a certain class or the high school wants to coordinate with the college,” said Hampson.
Fine recognized the availability of college courses for her daughter and other high school students was the result of a coordinated effort.
“Lin Hampson, Carol Swartz, Doug Waclawski said, ‘we can make this happen.’ It took all three of them working pretty hard to make it happen so I have a lot of gratitude for this exciting opportunity,” said Fine.
Molly had high praise for Miranda Weiss, her creative writing instructor, and is looking forward to taking additional college courses during her junior year at Homer High.
“It definitely gave me a different attitude about writing,” said Molly. “I was looking for a challenge. For me, it was definitely worth it.”
Comparing a college class environment to what he has learned on his own, Thomas said he appreciated the assignments the class offered and the support he received from the instructor, Richard Webb.
“When you have a project you can work on that’s worthwhile, the willingness to do it comes more easily,” said Thomas.
“(The experience) was incredibly important.”
Meeting with Kachemak Bay campus staff to learn about college-level courses available to high school students
6 pm. May 13