Stadium High School students, staff embrace college classes taught on their campus

Writing one college-quality paper a week in a high school English class might seem like a daunting task for many students.

But a group of Stadium High School students who’ve tackled that and similar tasks say the challenge is worth it — especially when there’s college credit waiting at the end of a demanding high school course.

Through a pair of programs that offer dual high school and college credit, hundreds of students at Stadium are getting a taste of what university work will be like.

Those who pass these courses — taught by Stadium teachers, in Stadium classrooms — are awarded college credits either from the University of Washington or from Central Washington University.

Similar programs are in place at other high schools in Tacoma, the South Sound and throughout the state.

Stadium senior Jonathan Dawes said the first-semester UW English course he took this year was “eye-opening.”

“It shows you how fast-paced college is,” said Dawes, who’s considering a career as a fish and wildlife officer. “But that’s not a bad thing.”

Unlike students in the Advanced Placement program taught in many high schools around the country, students enrolled in either the CWU or UW programs don’t have to pass a rigorous end-of-course AP exam to earn college credits.

Nor do they need to leave campus to attend classes at a community college, the way local students in the popular Running Start program do.

They just have to pass the class.

One advantage for students is that they can take college level curriculum in a smaller, familiar setting.

“It’s a great opportunity,” said Doug Hostetter, director of secondary education for Tacoma Public Schools. “You get exposure to college rigor, but in a smaller environment, where the teacher has more time for you.”

One difference between the UW and CWU programs at Stadium is cost.

Due to differences in funding sources, the CWU classes are free to students, while the UW credits cost more than $300 (about a fifth of what they would pay if they were enrolled as full-time college students).

Stadium helps some students whose families can’t afford it by drawing on a regional scholarship fund.

A bill now in the state Legislature could level the playing field, making state funding for dual-credit high school classes more equitable and uniform.

The courses use university curriculum. Universities screen the high school teachers, looking at their credentials, degrees and other criteria. Teachers also receive university-developed training.

“It is an actual college course,” Stadium Principal Kevin Ikeda said. “Teachers have to be certified by the universities.”

Stadium offers dual-credit English, science and math classes, and next year it will add computer science.

John Grevstad chairs Stadium’s English department, which launched a major initiative this school year to encourage more students to enroll in university-sponsored English courses.

Grevstad said several dual credit options have been offered by Washington universities and colleges for more than a decade. He said his department embraced the UW and CWU programs this year as a way to bring college rigor — and credits — to more students.

In the first semester this year, 111 of 116 Stadium students earned college English credit while enrolled in either a UW or CWU class. They did it by getting a C-minus or higher in the CWU class, or a C or higher in the UW class.

Included in the numbers are 29 minority students, 27 of whom earned college credit.

“We have virtually eliminated the equity gap in having kids earn college credit while in high school,” Grevstad said. “It’s a way to bring college credits to all students.”

Senior Danielle Pascual took UW English at Stadium and is thinking about majoring in journalism and communications.

“At first I didn’t really like it,” she said of the higher-level class. “But I knew I wanted the credit. By the end, I felt like I learned a lot.”

Junior Tony Martin said his sophomore English teacher encouraged him to give the classes a try. He’s enrolled this semester in a UW English class at Stadium.

“Writing has always been a passion of mine,” said Tony, who wants to be an English teacher.

Elitania Espinoza, a senior considering law or medicine as a career, said she struggled at first with the vocabulary in a course from Central.

“But after a while, I got the hang of it,” she said. “Mr. Grevstad explains things well.”

Grevstad said university faculty observe teachers in Stadium classrooms periodically. Faculty also sample portfolios of student writing to ensure it’s up to college standards.

“We are not ‘dumbing down’ the curriculum,” Grevstad said. “We are not cutting corners.”

Explains Ikeda: “A big focus is getting kids college and career ready. We’ve taken the philosophy that every kid is going to be a great writer.”

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