U program helps high schoolers get a jump

Kelly Hildebrandt

Metro-area high school students can get college credit without even leaving their classroom through a University College program.
The College in the Schools program, which began in 1986, incorporates University curriculum into high school classes in 46 schools in the metro area.
High school juniors and seniors can earn University credits in history, composition, English, German, political science, economics and science. The classes are taught by high school teachers who take summer training courses to prepare their curriculum.
Teachers in the program said the college classes, which are more demanding than traditional high school classes, are intended to ease college-bound students into the rigors of college classes.
“At the University, you don’t go over to your English professor and say, ‘Well I had a history test today so I’m not going to hand in my paper,'” said Katherine Colligan, a political science teacher at Elk River High School.
Faculty coordinator Toni McNaron, who advises high school English teachers in the program, said the University equivalent to the program’s classes are normally taught by teaching assistants at the University. High school teachers are often more qualified than their University counterparts, she said.
McNaron said she tries to include multi-cultural literature, which many high school students don’t get, into the English classes’ curriculum.
Mike Forsberg, who teaches Introduction to Modern Fiction at Maple Grove High School, said this approach has changed school curriculum that traditionally focused on “old, dead, white guys.”
“It’s opened the eyes of a lot of people that there is some great literature out there that might not have been called ‘great literature,'” said Maple Grove English teacher Terry Caruso.
To be involved in the program, students must maintain a B average and be in the top 20 percent of their classes.
Officials said the courses help prepare students for college life by giving them an example of a university curriculum.
“[High school students] are used to many different grades” in their high school classes, said Colligan. “To have everything depend on three [grades] was interesting” for the students.
Colligan, who has taught Introduction to Political Science for three years, said students are usually stunned when they receive a low grade on their midterms. They are forced to acclimate quickly to the rigors of a college course.
During the trimester, students in Caruso and Forsberg’s classes read seven books. To receive an A, students must read an eighth. There are no tests in the course and grades are based on journal writing and participation in discussion.
“I had one kid tell me that I kept him out of medical school because he got a C,” Forsberg said. “That was real difficult.”
The differences are not just in the increased workload that students face, but also in the teaching style.
“It is so much more informal,” said composition teacher Gail Nelson. “This year my classes were small and I was able to be a coach more than a teacher.”
Nelson said the hardest part of teaching the class was grading the papers of kids who rarely receive anything below an A-minus.
“When they see their first B or C, they are just devastated by it,” Nelson said.
However, Caruso said despite the classes’ difficulty, some students were so positively affected by the class that it made their decision to continue on to college easier.
“Several kids, I think, were questioning whether they wanted to go to college. Now they have this class; they’re excited to get going,” Caruso said. She added that parents have told her the class has changed their children’s view about higher education.
However, Colligan said she is concerned about the ramifications such difficult classes have on high school students. She said students are taking six high school classes, plus many are involved in activities and sports and may have a job.
“I did have one parent that was feeling that it was too much stress on their daughter,” Colligan said.