Students Earn UW Credits Without Leaving Their Own High School
Living on a small island in the northwest corner of Puget Sound can be isolating for a high school senior, but Audrey Olshefsky doesn't mind. She competes on the Friday Harbor High School's soccer and sailing teams, and for the last two years her team has won Orca Bowl, a regional component of the National Ocean Sciences Bowl. Audrey also has her sights set on college.
Just getting off the island to go shopping can be tricky for island residents, let alone attending college prep courses or training. Thankfully, another perk of Audrey's small high school is that they offer the University of Washington's Oceanography 101 course through UW in the High School (UWHS).
Fully accredited by the National Alliance of Concurrent Enrollment Partnerships (NACEP), UWHS allows students to take University of Washington courses through their high school and earn college credits. Similar to a regular high school or college course, students are scored based on overall performance – while also establishing a student record at UW.
For Audrey it was a perfect fit. "I wanted to take the class because I really like oceanography, plus I thought it would help me with Orca Bowl, and it was a great opportunity to get college credit."
Accessibility Means Getting Ahead
Similarly isolated, but surrounded by wheat fields rather than water, is Othello High School, where juniors Jasmine Mendez and A.J. Garza are enrolled in UW's English 131 course. Both Jasmine and A.J. signed up for the class to gain college credit and prepare for the intensity of college. "I was persuaded by the fact that doing well in this type of class would not only put me ahead of most of my peers but would look excellent on college transcripts," says Jasmine.
One major perk for UWHS students is accessibility. Other college prep programs, such as Running Start, require students to leave their school their junior and senior years and travel to nearby community or technical colleges. The nearest community college to Othello is Big Bend Community College in Moses Lake – 32 miles one way.
For many, that means giving up extracurricular activities.
"We do have Running Start at my high school," says Audrey, "but I wanted to stay with my class in my last year of high school."
A.J. also found UWHS more convenient and affordable than Running Start. "My family and I decided buying the UW credits now would help me in the future."
Hard Work That Pays Off
In addition to UWHS, Audrey, Jasmine and A.J. are taking Advanced Placement (AP) courses, but these can be a gamble. In Washington, less than one-third of students who take AP tests score well enough to be awarded credits at UW, while 93 percent of students enrolled in UWHS earn a high enough grade to apply their credits toward a UW degree.
Concern about students working hard but not achieving passing scores on their AP tests influenced teacher Sammy Rocha to offer English 131 at Othello High School.
"UWHS has the same standards as the [AP] College Board standards that I was already using. In fact, the outcomes are simplified compared to the College Board's, but it was the rigor that I had been practicing for years."
Mike Shepard, who teaches History 235 at Kentlake High School in Kent, found similar problems with the AP program. But with UWHS, Shepard discovered both the right amount of academic demands and applicability.
"My students were taking a year-long course, which had very little student relevance or interest and did not match up with our district curriculum. History 235 matched our district needs and offered a chance for students to take a college class and earn credit."
Shepard also didn't like to see students leave campus to complete college courses through Running Start. "The UW program has allowed us to keep our students, maintain staffing levels, offer a diverse curriculum and raise the academic rigor."
Challenging Lessons Lead to Confidence
While obviously convenient and useful, UWHS courses also can be challenging at times – for both teacher and student.
"I would say that this course is the hardest course I have taken in my academic career," says A.J. "This course can blindside you if you don't expect to come prepared to class every day."
Audrey says, "It's a class where you can't expect the teacher to teach you everything, you have to do the reading outside of class."
Rocha has also felt stretched as a teacher, but found the effort well worth it. "This program is more intense but rewarding. Now that I'm in my fifth year with the program, I feel that I'm more of a complete teacher in all my classes due to the preparation and expertise the UWHS program has offered me."
Students agree the payoff has been worth the extra work. Jasmine feels she has learned transferable skills and not just trained for a test. "I have become more aware of my speech and how I explain myself in writing to people."
Despite living in communities 100 miles or more from the UW campus in Seattle, UWHS students feel the program has made them more prepared and confident to take on the demands and rewards of college.
To learn more about the UW in the High School program, visit www.uwhs.washington.edu, or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.