Subscribe

Will dual enrolling help Sonoma teens SOAR?

New nonprofit will help local high school students take college classes - while still in high school.|

Pushing for more flexibility at SVHS

A group of district parents is urging Sonoma Valley High to allow students to meet some graduation requirements with courses taken online or at a community college, something that is not currently allowed at SVHS in most cases.

The case for more academic flexibility?

* Students might need to take fewer classes during the school day in order to hold a part-time job.

* Many students need courses that are “singletons” in order to graduate – courses only offered once at one specific time - but those singletons often conflict with each other.

* Some students don’t want to or cannot take zero-period classes and some SVHS classes are only offered at this time, particularly high level math classes.

* Some students want to take regular history/bio/chem/physics for a year before tackling the AP versions (in order to build confidence and increase their chances of success). But with the current SVHS schedule and grad requirements, they simply cannot fit in an extra year of that subject.

* Some students opt out of the high school’s engineering and ag academies because they can’t fit it into their schedules and taking extra classes online would enable them to participate in an academy.

* Some students discover an SVHS elective they love and want to pursue for more than one year. That is almost impossible with all the other courses they need to fit in to graduate.

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.

SVUSD Alternative Credit Application Process (.pdf

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’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.’ Gavin Blanusa

“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.

Kenton described the class as “a really good introduction” to college coursework and he recommends the experience.

“It showed me the pace of college classes and the personal responsibility needed to finish your work,” he said.

Selma Blanusa said that the program also has value for students who don’t plan on attending a four-year college.

“There are fantastic vocational classes at the JC and career exploration classes for students who aren’t sure yet what they want to do after graduation,” she said.

And perhaps the one single upside to the COVID pandemic causing most, if not all, college classes to be conducted online this year is that there couldn’t be an easier time for students to take college courses.

“Classes are online now and there are fewer scheduling constraints and no driving needed,” Selma said.

“Taking a JC class online would definitely be easier,” said Schimm, who found it challenging to fit in her 1:30 p.m. calculus class between her regular class schedule and her varsity sport commitments.

Students who are interested in taking a college class either online or, eventually, in person, should start by looking at the SRJC and NVC course catalogs. The Blanusas suggest that students then talk with their SVHS academic counselor and submit the short SOAR Sonoma application. Either a parent navigator or a student navigator will then reach out to help with deadlines and enrollment.

The Blanusas are just getting started with the program but they hope to create a solid foundation for SOAR this school year and to keep the nonprofit going indefinitely. They have filed for nonprofit status and are currently adding to their board of directors. They hope to help 15 to 35 kids each semester, and expect that “the first students to benefit from the program will enroll this winter or next spring.”

Jessica Hutchinson, who is in her first year as the principal at SVHS, told the Index-Tribune that some of her administrators and counselors are meeting with Gavin this week to learn more and that, in the meantime, she was pleased that SOAR was largely student-initiated.

“It's great to see students pursue their interests and support a cause or passion,” she said. “The skills and experience gained from working on a project like this are so valuable.”

SVUSD school board trustee Britta Johnson agrees.

“I'm inspired when students see a need, step up, and collaborate to make things happen in support of our schools and their fellow students,” she said.

Learn more at soarsonoma.com.

Contact Lorna at lorna.sheridan@sonomanews.com.

Pushing for more flexibility at SVHS

A group of district parents is urging Sonoma Valley High to allow students to meet some graduation requirements with courses taken online or at a community college, something that is not currently allowed at SVHS in most cases.

The case for more academic flexibility?

* Students might need to take fewer classes during the school day in order to hold a part-time job.

* Many students need courses that are “singletons” in order to graduate – courses only offered once at one specific time - but those singletons often conflict with each other.

* Some students don’t want to or cannot take zero-period classes and some SVHS classes are only offered at this time, particularly high level math classes.

* Some students want to take regular history/bio/chem/physics for a year before tackling the AP versions (in order to build confidence and increase their chances of success). But with the current SVHS schedule and grad requirements, they simply cannot fit in an extra year of that subject.

* Some students opt out of the high school’s engineering and ag academies because they can’t fit it into their schedules and taking extra classes online would enable them to participate in an academy.

* Some students discover an SVHS elective they love and want to pursue for more than one year. That is almost impossible with all the other courses they need to fit in to graduate.

UPDATED: Please read and follow our commenting policy:

  • This is a family newspaper, please use a kind and respectful tone.
  • No profanity, hate speech or personal attacks. No off-topic remarks.
  • No disinformation about current events.
  • We will remove any comments — or commenters — that do not follow this commenting policy.
Send a letter to the editor

Our Network

The Press Democrat
Sonoma Index-Tribune
Petaluma Argus Courier
North Bay Business Journal
Sonoma Magazine
Bite Club Eats
La Prensa Sonoma
Sonoma County Gazette