College jump-start |

College jump-start

Emma Garrard/Sierra SunA student raises her hand in an English 1A class at Sierra College in Truckee on Monday afternoon. Several Truckee High students are enrolled in the class.

Some Truckee and North Tahoe High School students are advancing their academic career by taking college courses at nearby Sierra College.

Underwritten by a $500,000 grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and other sources, the Dual and Concurrent Enrollment program aims to shorten the long road high school graduates must take to earn a college degree. Many see the exposure to a college setting as a positive experience for area students.

“It’s a great option for our advanced kids,” said school district board President Kristy Olk.

Enrollment is free to the district’s high school students, but they must be enrolled full time to take advantage of the dual-enrollment program. They must also take a placement test before enrolling in college classes.

Olk acknowledged that some educators worry the high school students could miss out academically by taking courses that may be so advanced that some fundamentals are missed. She said that is why school officials want to make sure they implement the dual-enrollment program uniformly across the district.

The board of trustees hired consultant Debi Pitta, former head of curriculum of the Placer County Office of Education, to head up a committee to identify district standards and unify them to establish, “clarification so [our] policies align with our practices,” Pitta said.

Working out the details will be under the purview of Pitta’s committee, which met Monday to discuss how Sierra College courses compare with the high school curriculum.

Dean Rick Rantz of Sierra College said the only problem with the dual-enrollment program is its popularity.

“[That’s] because we’ve got so many students wanting to come to take our courses that it has funneled a lot of the brightest students to Sierra College,” Rantz said. If the program admits students from district schools, Rantz said that would only be an advantage to the high school.

“It provides an opportunity to those teachers to bring the skill level up of the remaining students,” Rantz said.

Not limited to advanced-placement students, the program could allow a student who has a less-than-stellar semester to get back on track by taking catch-up classes, Pitta said, although those would not be for college credit.

The committee is a mix of teachers, counselors and parents form each of the district’s four high schools, Truckee, North Tahoe, Sierra and Coldstream high schools.

Rantz said the college received a grant from the Gates Foundation last year of $500,000. The college dean said the idea behind the foundation’s Early College High School Initiative is to allow a high school student to earn a two-year associate of arts degree by the time they graduate high school.

Although Truckee-Tahoe students will not be able to earn a two-year degree before attending college, Rantz said the dual-track program could significantly reduce the time and money needed to graduate from college.

The college dean said a study published in the Chronicle of Higher Education concluded that it takes 6.2 years for the average student to complete their undergraduate degree. If the migration of high school students to Sierra College reduces average class size at the high schools, Rantz said the high school teachers

would not be affected by a loss of revenue.

“I’ve been assured by officials at [Tahoe Truckee Unified School District] that

Truckee High School teacher’s job security would not be affected,” Rantz said.

The combination of college and high school classes is what Pitta called a 21st century education. She said the dual-enrollment program raises educational standards that students need to meet in a global economy.

“Whenever [students] are held to a higher standard, they usually meet it,” she said.

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