Here in northwestern Washington State, one of the barriers to successful transition from high school to college for our Hispanic and low income students is a reluctance on the part of the family and local church community to encourage their children to pursue post-secondary education when doing so would require a move from the family unit. In other words, families don’t want their children to leave the Skagit Valley to pursue higher education. Moving here at the start of last school year I was determined to implement strategies that would enable more of these students to pursue college degrees near home. I knew the power of concurrent enrollment to change students' understanding of their college potential, having successfully implemented a concurrent enrollment partnership at my prior school district in Illinois and completing my dissertation using national data to understand dual enrollment's impact.
Last Spring, the Mount Vernon School District entered into a memorandum of understanding with Skagit Valley College (SVC) to begin offering academic concurrent enrollment courses (known in Washington State as College in the High School). SVC's Spanish IV (intermediate communications) course is now offered at Mount Vernon High School and is specifically targeted to heritage speakers – students who are bilingual in Spanish and whose families fall into one or more underrepresented demographic groups: Migrant, Bilingual, or Low Income. The goal is to build a pipeline for these students to successfully gain post-secondary experience and credits from Skagit Valley College that will encourage them to continue and complete a degree at the college after high school graduation. As the concurrent enrollment program at Skagit Valley College grows, students will have more opportunities to pursue degrees that will lead to careers enabling them to achieve a living wage while remaining in and around the local area.
Another new partnership focuses on developing teachers from the local Hispanic community, for which the school district, SVC and Western Washington University (located 30 minutes north of Mount Vernon) recently entered into an agreement. Students at Mount Vernon High School will take SVC concurrent enrollment courses in educational careers and child development. Upon graduation, students will complete an Associate's Degree in child development at the college. Students completing this degree are automatically admitted into Western Washington’s Woodring College of Education.
Beyond the coursework, I have been working with our college partners to offer college orientation opportunities for our students. We are organizing a trip to the campus for the Spanish students to participate in an orientation to college, complete the college application, and take the COMPASS exam. The college will also host a Latino family event, to which our families will be invited. These activities will help smooth the way for students to enter post-secondary education.
For next year, the district and college are discussing adding two new concurrent enrollment classes at Mount Vernon High School – English Composition I and a College Success Skills course. Again the courses would target underrepresented students. Counselors and teachers at the high school are increasingly aware of these courses and the benefits to our students. A third class in Speech Communication is also under consideration, if a qualified high school instructor can be found within the English Department. Skagit Valley College recently took the important step of assigning a liaison to continue to work with the district to grow and support the concurrent enrollment program. The liaison is currently the director of Tech Prep Programs for the college, thus furthering the college's partnerships with high schools in both career and academic programs.