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Paynesville Press - Jan. 15, 2003

High school offers college-credit course

By Bonnie Jo Hanson

Paynesville Area High School offered students the opportunity to earn college credits without leaving high school this year.

Through the Challenge Program at Southwest State University, juniors and seniors can take a college level English class at PAHS and earn four college credits.

English teacher Deb Ficek is primarily responsible for bringing the program to the school and teaches the course to 23 students. The course focuses on college-level writing and grammar.

According to Ficek, students had been asking for the course for several years because they wanted something more intensive than the school's previous offerings. Previously, students were able to take Advanced Placement (AP) classes, but to earn college credit for such a class they needed to take a test and pay for the credit. The Challenge Program allows students to take a college-level class and earn credit at no cost to the student.

The school's cost for the program is approximately $2,000. Since many of the students in the program could have gone post-secondary, according to Ficek, investing money in the program may be a wise decision. The school district receives approximately $5,000 for each student, so losing just one student to open enrollment or post-secondary enrollment would cost the school more in revenue than the Challenge Program costs.

Since the credits come from an accredited state university, they can be transferred to virtually any school, said Ficek, although some colleges in South Dakota may not accept them.

Besides earning credit, students in the program are given the chance to learn how different a college course is from high school, and it gives them a leg up on college, said Ficek.

"It may not help students get into college," added school counselor, Jackie Campbell, "but it helps prepare them for how rigorous college is."

While the curriculum is set up by the college, much of the legwork to get the course going at PAHS was left up to Ficek, who had to create lesson plans and set up a schedule for the class. "This was very hard to pull together," she said. "The college gave us textbooks and requirements for the grammar final and essays, but I still probably spent twice as much time prepping for this class than for others."

One challenge to setting up the course was trying to make it fit into one of the high school's semesters, which is shorter than a college semester. Finally, Ficek said, the school decided to offer the course as a year-long class.

Southwest State University provided the school with a mentor to aid in getting the program up and running, and a mentor is available for ongoing support, but Ficek said her mentor was a bit overwhelmed and she didn't get the support she expected.

To teach the course, the university requires that a teacher either has a master's degree or experience as a college-level teaching assistant. Ficek worked as a teaching assistant while she was in college.

Most of the scoring is done by Ficek, but a professor from the college regrades two of the student's six essays. Course work is graded at a college level, which surprised some of her students, said Ficek. "Even though I sent out letters to parents explaining how the course would be graded, most of the students weren't expecting the difficult grading scale," she said.

Response from students has been positive, even though many of them were expecting literature and not grammar, said Ficek.

Sara Ringstad, a senior who plans to study ministry and music at Northwestern University, said she would have taken the course, even if she hadn't been offered credit for it, because the other English classes just didn't interest her.

Juniors Adam Ingalsbe and Cahlean Klenke both said the course taught more grammar than they thought it would. Ingalsbe said he liked the class because he was learning a broad range of information. Klenke said she liked the challenge and the course was broadening her writing skills.

Ficek said almost all of the students in the course have shown a large improvement in their technical writing skills and their critical thinking.

Next year, Ficek hopes to offer a literature class worth three college credits. By alternating between literature and writing, students will have the opportunity to earn seven English credits during their junior and senior years.

To get into the class, students must be a junior or senior, have at least a "B" average, and must submit an essay to be considered.

According to PAHS principal John Janotta, eventually the school would like to offer more college credit courses. He said he wants to keep the offerings well-rounded, so the next course may be art.

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