By graduation, students could be almost a year ahead of their peers

dyawger@mercedsunstar.comJanuary 12, 2014 

High school students in Merced and Atwater have a chance to take college-level courses taught by Merced College professors through a cooperative program entering its third year.

Students can determine if they are suited to the rigors of college and conceivably could shave about a year off their time in college if they complete four courses while they are juniors and seniors, Darren Sylvia, director of student support services for the Merced Union High School District, said.

Starting this week, Atwater High School students can take a class that covers American history before the Civil War. Buhach Colony High School students in Atwater can take a health class.

At Golden Valley High School in Merced, instruction in American history after the Civil War is offered, and psychology will be taught at Merced High School.

Students earn high school and college credit for the courses. Each of the four classes has about 25 students.

The program will be extended to juniors at El Capitan High School next fall, Sylvia said.

“When you graduate, you can leave high school with 20 college credits on your transcript,” Sylvia said. “That almost knocks a year out of college. It’s another way to accelerate their learning.”

Karyn Dower, dean of economic and workforce development at Merced College, said college professors will be at high school sites to teach the classes, which have the same rigor and requirements of classes taught at the college. College-level classes for high schoolers typically are scheduled either before their regular classes start or at the end of the day.

“It’s a good partnership,” Dower said. “By the time they finish high school they will have four credits completed. We are giving them a head start on a college degree or transfer credit.”

Dower said the students who take the college classes, with the extra time and study required, must be dedicated to getting ahead. But college professors have said participating students are serious and adequately prepared to meet program requirements, she said.

High school students need approval from their counselors to undertake the college classes, Sylvia said. With special approval from college counselors, some sophomores may take part. Students must demonstrate they can handle the extra workload and have the work ethic to stay with the program.

The health class covers psychological, emotional, social and physiological health topics, Sylvia said, and the psychology class is a basic class that gives elective credit at the high school level and a transferable four units of college credit.

Dower said a number of high school students take courses at Merced College separate from the cooperative program. The college is contracted through fall 2015 to offer the classes to high school students.

Sun-Star staff writer Doane Yawger can be reached at (209) 385-2407 or dyawger@mercedsunstar.com.

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