Learning curve: High school students pushing the limits

High school senior Katie Barnes is performing ahead of the academic curve.

At 18, the Moffat County High School student completes classwork expected of any student her age. But in the summer of Barnes' sophomore year she decided to take schoolwork a step further, simultaneously taking college courses while in high school.

The push paid off: Barnes was recently accepted into the nursing program at Colorado's Northwestern Community College (CNCC).

"I'm just trying to start my career and get some classes out of the way," she said. "I've always wanted to get into the medical field and this is the best way I thought I could do it."

Though a waiting list for the local nursing program may keep Barnes from entering the program next fall, a dual-enrollment partnership between Moffat County High School students and CNCC works, she said.

Junior and senior high school students have the option to take college courses along with a regular high school load. Or, some high school classes count toward college credits.

Both scenarios offer students core classes that count toward transferable college credit.

"It takes a lot of responsibility," Barnes said. "It's made me feel more mature."

Indeed, a growing number of high school students are taking the initiative to get college classes out of the way.

And, more local students are pressing to finish a two-year college associate's degree by high school graduation.

Laura Brewer, assistant registrar at CNCC, reports 14 Moffat County high school students are currently enrolled in a full 12-credit college course load. To earn an associate degree in high school, students have to be enrolled in a full course load for two years. Only juniors and seniors are eligible for dual credit-enrollment. Some high school students take summer classes to bridge credit gaps.

"We've been getting more and more students taking advantage of this," Brewer said. "The high school has been doing a good job of getting the word out."

This semester, local high school students are enrolled dual-enrollment classes a total of 67 times.

At the fast clip junior Klava Caras is going, she should graduate with an associate of science degree at the end of senior year.

The high school junior sees the opportunity as a way to save time and money.

"I'm going to have all those classes out of the way," she said. "I think it's a really good advantage not to have to pay tuition."

Dual-enrollment students can forgo tuition costs if they earn passing grades.

Former Moffat County High School student Jared Kipe was the first student from the school to graduate with an associate degree. He managed his time taking a few night classes each semester.

At 18, Kipe is now a junior at University of Washington and on track to graduate at the age of 20.

Wrapping up an associate degree early saved Kipe $48,000, or two years of out-of-state tuition costs.

"You get out if it what you put into it," he said.

Yet Kipe added the accelerated learning program isn't for everyone.

"If you think you've got what it takes it's good to try," he said. "If (a student) is bothered taking regular classes it's probably not for them."

CNCC administrator Gene Bilodeau said the college doesn't encourage high school students to press for two-year degrees before they graduate because the intense workload. The main goal of the dual-enrollment is to keep above average students academically challenged, he said.

"If a student is working to achieve all courses academically they may not get the full appreciation of the high school years," Bilodeau said.

That hasn't stopped students like Caras. In addition to studies, she's involved in high school activities like planning for prom, and she's a member of the Key Club and Student Council. Caras attends church every morning at 5 a.m. and after a full day at high school, juggles three college-level classes at night.

"People ask me how I do it. I get that a lot," she said. "You just get used to it."

Barnes said students' motivation to attend college classes stems from a variety of issues.

Some students need the dual-enrollment credits simply to graduate from high school. Others push toward an associate's degree to escape Craig's small-town atmosphere and get into a college more quickly somewhere else, she said.

Motivation for Barnes is being the first in her family to go to college.

"It makes me feel proud that I can do this," she said.

Amy Hatten can be reached at 824-7031 or ahatten@craigdailypress.com.

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