Early college program off to a promising beginning

CALUMET – There are three classrooms at Calumet High School which look more like something one might find at a community college. That is just one aspect of the atmosphere officials are trying to create for the 85 students taking the school’s Early College program.

Begun this school year, the Early College program is a partnership between CHS and Gogebic Community College in Ironwood. Besides their regular high school classes, the 11th- and 12th-grade students in the program also take GCC classes. Students will earn either an associate of arts or associate of science degree in one year of community college classes rather than two. Those who move on to a four-year university will also be better prepared.

George Twardzik, CHS principal, said besides taking classes in rooms with tables large enough for three people rather than individual desks, the classes are on the same semester and hourly schedules as GCC. Students use the same text books as GCC. Teachers also conduct the classes as would college instructors, going to the rooms where the students are rather than having students go to where the instructor is.

“We wanted to try to create somewhat of a campus in a campus,” he said. “We’ve aligned as best as we can with GCC.”

The Early College students actually began their semester a week and a half before the other high school students, Twardzik said, and the first semester was completed by the Christmas break. The next semester starts this week.

Twardzik said besides taking the Early College classes, students have to take their regular high school classes.

“They have dual citizenship,” he said. “They have to balance that.”

Students in the Early College program have an added responsibility because they have to decide how best to use the time they aren’t in class, either working on projects or studying.

“They’re on their own,” he said.

To complete the Early College program, Twardzik said students will have to come back for another year of classes after graduating from high school. It’s uncertain how well that will work out, but some of the seniors he’s talked to have said they will come back.

As they were planning their program, Twardzik said he and Darryl Pierce, superintendent of the Public Schools of Calumet, Laurium & Keweenaw, visited other schools with Early College programs. They communicated with officials at Mott Community College in Flint, which has been conducting a similar program for 23 years.

The Early College program just finished its first semester at CHS, but Twardzik said despite the program’s uniqueness for administrators, instructors and students, he thinks it’s working well.

“I’m very happy where we’re at,” he said. “We took a leap of faith.”

Teacher Abe Voelker, who is one of the Early College instructors, said he really hasn’t changed his teaching style for the college classes.

He does treat the students more like adults rather than high school students, however.

The students in the Early College program aren’t abusing the extra degree of freedom they have, Voelker said, and attendance hasn’t been a problem.

“Students know from day one this is a tremendous opportunity,” he said. “They don’t want to blow this opportunity.”

Voelker said students are well behaved in class, and there isn’t the rowdiness which sometimes occurs in high school classrooms.

“This is a college course with college expectations,” he said.

He’s so impressed with the Early College program, Voelker said he’d like his own children to take it.

Pierce said he’s glad the district and GCC created their partnership for the Early College program.

“It’s exceeded my expectations,” he said.

For this first year of the Early College program, Pierce said students take economics, English and math. Next year, the plan is to add chemistry.

Pierce said the CHA Early College program is unique in Michigan in that the classes are in the high school, rather than in a separate building.

The GCC classes don’t cost anything for CHS students who meet the minimum GCC requirements, Pierce said.

He’s gotten mostly favorable comments about the Early College program from students and parents, Pierce said. He thinks most of the seniors will come back to finish the program after graduating from high school.

Two of the CHS seniors taking the Early College program are Rachel Darnell and Alisa Storm, both of whom said they like it.

Darnell said she decided to take the Early College classes because she thought they would give her an advantage.

“I wanted to get ahead in my college classes,” she said.

The program does require more work than just taking high school classes, Darnell said.

“It’s pretty hard,” she said. “I think it’s going to help me in the future.”

Darnell said she will come back for the Early College program after graduating high school. She would like to go to a four-year institution to get a degree in art and design.

Storm said she’s taking the Early College classes partly because they’re free, and because it will mean she will be able to take fewer classes when she goes to a four-year university.

“I thought it would be a great opportunity,” she said.

Officials with GCC have been flexible in allowing the structuring of the Early College program at CHS, Pierce said.

“It’s been great to work with Gogebic Community College,” he said. “They want what’s best for the kids.”