Will dual enrolling help Sonoma teens SOAR?
The practice of allowing high school students to take community college classes — courses that count both toward high school graduation and an eventual college degree — is increasing in popularity nationwide.
It makes sense, say some education experts, who agree that it’s good for students, good for high schools and good for community colleges. Studies have found that teens who take a college class while still in high school are more likely to graduate, more likely to go to college and more likely to complete college. High schools see higher graduation rates, and can offer students more course options. Colleges build stronger ties with their feeder high schools and increase enrollment and revenue.
UCLA junior Alyssa Schimm took calculus 2 at Napa Valley College her senior year at Sonoma Valley High School because it wasn’t offered at the high school.
“I needed second level calculus to be competitive with other applicants for the engineering programs I was applying to,” she said. “It strengthened my application and gave me a sense of the pace of college classes – and the credits transferred easily, something that’s not always the case with AP [advanced placement course] credits.”
Across California, 12.6 percent of public high school students dual enroll in college classes while still in high school, according to the Center for Community College Research.
Schimm was the only person she knew taking a JC class at the time. At Sonoma Valley High the number is not tracked, but it is believed by sources at SVHS to be far below the statewide average.
Sonoma Valley High senior Gavin Blanusa and his mother, Selma Blanusa, have a plan to change all that.
Their new independently-run, all-volunteer nonprofit, SOAR, stands for Student Outside Academic Resource. It is a free program designed to help Sonoma Valley High School students take college courses while in high school. All SVHS students in grades 9 and above are eligible.
More than just a fund, it is also a communication and advisory resource to help students and parents understand their options and navigate the sometimes tricky dual-enrollment process.
“In California, we have a benefit of being able to take community college courses for free if we are currently enrolled as high school students, however, many students do not know of this program and may not be able to afford the additional fees,” said Selma Blanusa.
Sonoma Valley High School currently lets students take a total of four one-semester courses (20 credits) from accredited colleges for credit, with prior approval. Typically, the courses cannot replace equivalent courses offered at SVHS but must instead go above and beyond graduation requirements.
SOAR will pay for course and application fees and textbooks for students taking classes through California’s Community College network, including Santa Rosa Junior College and Napa Valley College. While high school students can enroll part-time for free at most junior colleges, many courses have material fees and require costly textbooks. SOAR helps students understand their options, navigate the enrollment process and cover any costs associated with taking the courses.
“It’s all about equity,” said Selma. “Students who take college classes start their college career with credit which saves on tuition costs and as importantly, a confidence that they can succeed in college. It gives students a leg up, and it shouldn’t just be well-off kids in the know who do this.”
“This is underutilized at Sonoma High,” added Gavin Blanusa. “Our goal to make it easy and not intimidating for all students to take some college classes while still in high school.”
To that end, SOAR offers a “student navigator” to walk teens through the process and a “parent navigator” to explain the ins and outs to parents. This year, Gavin and Selma are serving as the navigators.
Gavin, who took a statistics course at U.C. Santa Cruz last summer, outlined some reasons that a student might want to take college courses while still in high school.
“It’s a chance to take classes that SVHS doesn’t offer, to explore career areas you might be interested in, to get a jump on your college credits and just to feel more confident about succeeding in college,” he said.
Sonoma Valley High grad Greg Kenton took calculus 1 at SRJC during his senior year because it was offered in the evening instead of during zero period (7 a.m.) at SVHS.
“It also moved faster – instead of being spread out over five days a week both semesters, it was two days a week for one semester,” he said.