UAS program for JDHS students questioned

Posted: Sunday, February 13, 2000

Juneau high school students who took college courses under a new program did well during the fall semester, with most getting A's, university officials said.

But when the high school turned down half the applicants for the spring semester, it raised questions about who should be able to enroll.

Some parents are concerned that the program, called the College Connection, is shrinking already. But other people worry it will replace courses that should be offered at the high school.

``This is a wonderful program. We just have to fine-tune it,'' said Frank Coenraad, a counselor at JDHS who reviewed the applications.

``Every new program has glitches,'' agreed Emily Cotter, a JDHS junior who was turned down for a spring course. ``The glitch in this program is they don't have clearly defined criteria.''

The College Connection lets high school students, and in rare cases even middle school students, take courses at the University of Alaska Southeast at the school district's expense. Students get credit at the high school and the college.

Inua Blevins, a JDHS junior, took a fall photography course at UAS because the high school doesn't offer one.

``I'm just interested in becoming a photojournalist and I saw this as a pretty easy way to get into the field,'' he said.

Blevins, who showed a career interest by working as a photographer on the yearbook and school newspaper, said he hopes college courses will help him win a scholarship at the University of Nevada at Reno.

Eric Brewer, a JDHS senior, took a fall UAS course in basic automotive systems, similar to one he already had taken in high school.

``I just felt it would be good to go over it again,'' he said, and the basic course was a prerequisite to other college automotive courses.

Brewer is now taking a basic engines course at school district expense and an open lab that he pays for.

Other JDHS students have enrolled in UAS courses in music instruction, diesel mechanics, printmaking, speech, sociology, law, math, writing and computers.

The program is open to all types of students, but many of the students have been identified as gifted or talented.

``Historically, the (school) district has talked about acceleration opportunities. This is a real one and a concrete one,'' said Robert Sewell, who administers the program for UAS.

But the program already has bumped up against some gray areas.

Under the agreement between the school district and the college, eligible students would have to first exhaust a course sequence at JDHS or have other substantive reasons to take the college class.

In subjects such as math and science, the course sequence is pretty clear. But it's less so in the humanities.

JDHS student Cotter is taking a UAS course on world history at her family's expense. The school district turned her down for the College Connection because she hadn't exhausted the JDHS social studies curriculum, although she had taken a global studies class.

``I think unless you take about two history courses for two years and one for one year, only then would you exhaust all possible resources in the (JDHS) history department. That's a problem,'' Cotter said.

What the agreement meant by ``other substantive reasons'' isn't well-defined either. Some students who wanted college courses that aren't available at JDHS were accepted into the program, while others were rejected.

Coenraad, the JDHS counselor, said students were turned down for spring classes such as jewelry and boat repair because they weren't extending their high school courses.

The parents advisory committee for gifted and talented students is concerned the program is shrinking, rather than growing.

``The district is allowing fewer students into it. More students are being turned away,'' said committee member Margo Waring at a meeting last week.

But some people would be concerned if the program grew a lot because it would draw money and commitment away from the high school.

The school district doesn't fund advanced-placement courses in chemistry or physics, and it has cut back on vocational and arts courses, said Clay Good, a JDHS teacher who worked on the College Connection agreement for the Juneau Education Association, the teachers' union.

There's a demand for those types of courses, Good said. The teachers' association agreed to the College Connection because it didn't want to make students pay for college courses, he said. But teachers don't want to lose their courses to UAS.

``Why have a public school if you're just going to farm your students out?'' Good said. ``If you have all the calculus students at UAS, it gives the school district less incentive to hire a calculus teacher.''

The school district set a target of $10,000 in costs for the College Connection this first year, which has been slightly exceeded, said Peggy Cowan, the district's curriculum director.

Ten students took 14 courses in the first semester, and nine students are enrolled in 11 courses now. Nine other students who wanted to take 11 courses were turned down this semester.

``If we look to it as a growing program, then there has to be monetary backup to meet that demand,'' Coenraad said.

Good said he thought the program was going to be limited to a few gifted or talented students taking advanced courses they couldn't get at JDHS.

``If they're using the College Connection as a back door for kids to take vocational classes, then JEA is very concerned with it,'' Good said. ``That was never our understanding in all the hours we spent in meetings with folks last year.''

Sewell, the UAS coordinator, said the College Connection is an ``extremely good deal'' for the school district, compared with the cost of a teacher and specialized curricula for gifted and talented students.

Advanced high school students from well-off families can afford college courses or private music instruction, he said.

``The issue is will the other kids get it,'' Sewell said. ``I see it as an important step toward opportunity for all.''

But Good thinks more students would sign up for similar courses at the high school, where it's free for every student.

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