College in the morning and high school in the afternoon is not how most of us remember 11th grade. But for eight students at Cleveland Heights High School, it’s just their regular routine.
These students began taking classes at John Carroll University this semester as part of the R.E.A.L. Early College small school.
High school junior Landry Snead is one of the participants in the program. “College has always been something I’ve planned for,” said Snead. She is currently enrolled in six courses–three in high school, three at JCU.
At Cleveland Heights High School, the students are divided into four small schools. One of the schools offers the opportunity for students to take college courses while still in high school. This small school is called R.E.A.L. Early College, which is the abbreviation for Relevant, Experiential, Active Learning. At the end of sophomore year, these students can finish their core requirements for high school. They can begin taking college courses when they are juniors in high school, which means they have the potential to earn one year of college credit before they graduate high school.
Associate dean for graduate studies and associate professor of education Mark Storz is their academic advisor.
“This is a nice experience for them because they get to experience college life in a way that a lot of other folks don’t,” said Storz.
“They’re taking the type of courses that would be easily transferrable to other institutions,” Storz added. “We hope that some of them will stay here at John Carroll.”
Snead attributed her interest in the possibility of enrolling full-time at JCU after high school to being here already.
“It’s kind of making me want to stay here,” Snead said. “Since I’ve already had the experience with it and I’m getting comfortable with John Carroll and just simply because it’s easier to transfer credits to a school I’ve already been to.”
High school junior Johnathan Hicks is taking three classes at JCU, including English composition, calculus, and Japanese. Outside of classes, Hicks is also involved in cross country and track at his high school.
“It’s surreal, actually,” he said about his college experience. “It’s a little nerve-wracking at first. It’s kind of intimidating.”
Despite the daunting task of beginning college as a high school student, Hicks did not find his classes to be beyond his capabilities.
“We were actually very prepared by our teachers–our early college teachers–for our freshman and sophomore years,” Hicks said.
Each of the high school students is paired with a current JCU student mentor. The mentors provide a support system for the mentees throughout their early college experience.
Senior Ashley Campbell, Snead’s mentor, said, “We all know what it feels like to be freshmen and just coming from high school taking courses.”
Another mentor, senior Kari Wengatz, voiced her support for the students in the program.
“It’s a great way to get ahead,” Wengatz said.
“I applied because I was a post-secondary student.” She added, “That’s why I was interested, because I didn’t have any mentors.”
Wengatz explained that she exchanged phone numbers with her mentee so they could stay in touch easily.
“I just want to make sure that I’m there for her and she knows that,” she said.
Junior Ali Al-Ali reflected on last spring, when the mentors and mentees first met.
“The general attitude was they’re just excited to come to college, to deviate from the high school experience,” Al-Ali said.
The mentors were selected last year after completing an online application and an interview.
After being chosen for the program, the mentors underwent training before receiving their mentees.
“We really wanted these mentors to be able to be genuinely themselves when they’re talking to these students, and not feel like they had to specifically put on a front,” said Hillary Fearer, the graduate assistant for the early college program.
As the graduate assistant for the program, Fearer worked on the development of the mentoring component.
“My job was to do the background research, create an overall program structure, start building those relationships between us and Heights High on the mentoring side and try to create some general structure and programming,” said Fearer.
Fearer emphasized that the mentors act as role models for the high school students.
“The way we termed the mentoring relationship was almost like a ‘professional friendship,’” said Fearer.
Fearer also spoke positively about the way the high school students are handling their experience with college so far.
“It’s such a big change, and these students are 16,” she said. “And even though these are some of the most mature and responsible students you’ve ever seen in your entire life, it’s still a scary transition.”
Cleveland Heights High School principal Alisa Lawson-McKinnie explained her part as the students’ principal.
“My role is to create a positive culture that empowers and instills confidence in teachers as they prepare to nurture and stretch the academic potential in all students,” said Lawson-McKinnie.
Even though the program is still new, Lawson-McKinnie is already planning for its future.
She said, “I plan to grow the program and will send more students each semester.”