Academic rigor keeps seniors focused
Editor’s Note: This is a three-part series on the Eagle County School District’s high school programs. This week’s focus is academic rigor. In the next two weeks, look for information on vocational programs and extra-curricular activities at the schools.EAGLE COUNTY – As a senior in high school, most of us remember skating through that last year with few classes and a contagious bout of “senioritis.” Today’s seniors are still ready to get out, but the difference is that they’re not wasting that last year – instead, they’re making the most of it. At Eagle Valley and Battle Mountain High Schools, academic rigor is the focus for students, staff and administration. Students can take dual-enrollment or advanced-placement courses and earn college credit. Grades from those courses are ‘weighted’ – for example a ‘B’ in a dual-enrollment or AP class is worth more than a ‘B’ in a traditional class, thus explaining those grade point averages that are higher than a 4.0. So, students are actually rewarded for taking the higher level courses. AP courses are typically centered around a college-level exam students take at the end of the year. Each college or university decides how much credit they will give a student based on the score on the AP test.Battle Mountain currently offers AP classes in studio art, computers, U.S. history, world history, biology, English language, English literature, Spanish, calculus and environmental science. “We administered close to 200 AP exams for the College Board, and our students performed well on those exams,” Principal Brian Hester said.
Battle Mountain also offers rigorous but popular science courses such as forensics and compacted science in which study is accelerated. “We’re creating choices for kids, in the hopes of helping them with a direction for their future,” he said. Preparing for professorsThe Eagle County School District and Colorado Mountain College also offer dual-enrollment courses. The final grades in these courses are on the high school and college transcript and the grades are transferable, as long as they are higher than a C. Many students have entered college as a sophomore, saving an entire year of time and money. Students pay for the community college course, and if they receive C or higher, the school district also reimburses the student for the cost of the course. Peggy Curry, dean of the college’s Vail/Eagle Valley campus, says the average high school student takes about five dual-enrollment classes per year. Many students have gotten a full year of college in during high school taking mostly general education classes, Curry said. “This is a major feather in the school district’s hat that they do this,” she said. With a few summer and night courses, 2005 Eagle Valley graduate Cory Zehring entered the University of Nebraska last fall as a junior.
“It was great. Dual Enrollment gives kids an opportunity to see what college level class are going to be like, while earning college credit at the same time,” Zehring says. “It also gave me the opportunity to take harder exams and know what university professors look for in your assignments.” Eagle Valley high Principal Mark Strakbein said students who have taken the higher level courses are reporting that they are glad they did. “This year at Eagle Valley High, we have four students who are on track to receive their associate’s degree the same day as they receive their high school diploma,” Strakbein said. Saving college moneyThe time and money students save taking these courses has been tremendous, said Mike Gass, the district’s director of secondary education. High school principals have done an incredible job increasing academic rigor at the schools, an effort and parents and students have appreciated, Gass said.”Last year, Eagle County high schools students earned nearly 3,000 college credits, which equates to college tuition savings of over a half a million dollars,” Gass said. “These opportunities offered to students are something deeper.”
Red Canyon High School, the district’s alternative school, is in on the action as well. Students there are being challenged academically, and the school boasts the district’s highest percentage of students who have pursued higher education, Principal Wade Hill said. “Academic achievement is very important at Red Canyon. Last spring, 87 percent of our seniors went on to a two-year or four-year college,” Hill said. “Red Canyon is a great choice for kids who don’t want a traditional high school,” Gass added. “One size doesn’t fit all – you can get there a lot of different ways.”Vail, Colorado