College in the High School Program Peers into the Future

College in the High School Program Peers into the Future

It’s no secret that college is a different beast from high school, placing more responsibility on students to define their own path and reach for the learning they wish to achieve.

Through CWU’s College in the High School (CiHS) program, students are able to take college courses without leaving their school campus or altering their day-to-day schedule, earning college credits in a variety of classes as they go.

Made possible by a far-reaching partnership between Central and hundreds of high school partners statewide—182, to be exact—the program trains and supports teachers by giving students an early experience with college-style classroom settings and workload expectations.

Since the Washington Legislature made the credits earned through the program free last year, it has exploded in popularity, with more than 10,000 individual students expected to participate by the end of the 2023-2024 school year.

Through groundbreaking collaboration and genuine care for the next generation of college students, as well as their teachers, CiHS is helping to shape what education can be.

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A Step into Tomorrow

Sadie Melhorn knew she wanted to grow as a student, and thanks to her teacher, she found her next step close to home.

“I wanted to advance in English, so my teacher suggested College in the High School,” said Melhorn, a senior at Cle Elum-Roslyn High School. “I loved it so much that I just kept doing it, and now I’m getting done with English 105 before I’ve even graduated from high school.”

Melhorn’s teacher, Charlene Harper, is one of over 400 teachers in Washington who have chosen to partner with Central in order to bring CiHS to their students. Harper works with her CWU liaison to structure her English 101, 102, and 105 courses to match what is taught at CWU, with some special tweaks to make the content accessible to her students.

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“Our course objectives are very clear, but at the same time, the personal nature of the CWU partnership allows us to customize our own lesson plans with books and subjects we think would be best for the students in front of us,” Harper said. “It’s so incredibly freeing to be trusted as a professional to make those content decisions that we know will enhance the material’s impact.”

By customizing the content to better engage her students, Harper has found they are more able to grasp and apply the concepts on display, as opposed to simply memorizing and regurgitating the information.

“It’s so enjoyable to be able to bring in modern literature, in addition to the classics like Beowulf or The Green Knight,” she said. “Showing students that reading doesn’t have to be painful or boring—and that they can find pieces to really connect with if they look—that’s very gratifying as someone who’s seen too many students give up on reading entirely.”

“I feel like I’m absorbing so much more information this way,” Melhorn added. “Class feels more interactive and free-form; it’s a structure that really suits me.”

At Delta High School in Pasco, students in Clare Miller’s English 101 class were able to flex their passion for learning through the national Stossel in the Classroom essay contest in 2023.

Miller based an assignment around entering the contest, and two of her students walked away with prize money. Senior Nolan Bray claimed the $2,500 grand prize for his video submission, and senior Nicholas Baker earned a $100 honorable mention for his essay.

Bray says the experience taught him the value of taking a chance on the unknown.

“I wouldn’t ever have entered this contest if it wasn’t for Mrs. Miller’s assignment,” he said. “Knowing that I have the skill to create something that works on a national level like that is going to give me confidence for a long time to come.”

Both Bray and Baker got their introduction to CiHS through Sociology 101, and they have taken full advantage of the opportunity to enrich their academic journey.

“I always knew I wanted to go to college, which is why I started College in the High School in the first place,” Baker said. “With this experience, I’m not just walking into the unknown when I graduate; I’ll have an idea of the workload I’m facing and what my professors are expecting from me.”

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Constructive Collaboration

At the core of CiHS’s success lies a shared collaborative mindset between the network of partnered teachers and the university. College in the High School Director Kyle Carrigan explained that the flow of experience and support goes both ways.

“High school and college feature two very different styles of teaching that can complement each other quite well,” said Carrigan, who taught seventh-grade language arts before joining Central in 2016. “We have CWU faculty return from high school visits with new ideas for their own classrooms, as much as high school teachers pick up new strategies from our institutes and other support systems. It’s an ongoing cycle of learning and teaching for everyone who’s involved.”

CiHS Math Liaison Steve Stein agreed, citing his many visits to partnered classrooms as a source of inspiration for his own work as a professor of mathematics at CWU.

“Imagine yourself visiting 100 classrooms in a year, with the specific purpose of observing them and learning about them in order to give proper feedback,” he said. “You’re going to walk out of there with some new ideas, whether you want to or not. Even with my extensive background in K-12 teaching, I always learn something new about what makes a great classroom work that I can then bring back to my own students.”

Stein supports partnered classrooms through consultation rather than dictation, working with teachers on a case-by-case basis instead of enforcing a standard classroom model. This approach builds the goodwill necessary to keep that all-important spirit of collaborative success alive.

“The impact we have isn’t because we, in our infinite wisdom, have all the answers,” Stein said. “It’s because the teachers in these classes are willing to work with us, and we, in turn, get to learn from them. Together, we move forward and grow as a profession.”

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Lindley Schmitt says working with CWU has helped her grow as an educator.

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Moving Forward, Together

As a 22-year veteran of CiHS, Lindley Schmitt has watched as the roadblocks keeping students from pursuing higher education have fallen one by one before the transformative power of access and opportunity.

“What I’ve seen in my last 20 years of teaching is those barriers just breaking down further and further,” she said. “That’s thanks to the kind of work that Kyle (Carrigan) and his team are doing, which I’m very proud to be part of.”

Schmitt teaches CiHS at the Science and Math Institute of Tacoma, where she has been able to leverage the continuous support and peer network offered by the program to improve both the lives of her students as well as her own approach to education.

Even when faced with the unusual circumstances of the last few years, that network continues to provide a space for community-led problem-solving through its summer workshops and regular contact with its members.

“The education world is always going through some crisis or another,” Schmitt said. “What the CWU network and summer workshop offer us is the chance to re-ground ourselves as a group of teachers who share the same hopes and dreams for our students. We want what’s best for them, and we work together to get there.”

Similarly, Harper of Cle Elum-Roslyn High School noted that “it’s really powerful whenever educators from different districts get together to help each other out. Every district has its own policies, beliefs, and norms, and hearing what has worked and what hasn’t in other places is quite often a valuable source of inspiration.”

Beyond the essential opportunities for information-sharing, the continued influx of new ideas and information through CiHS liaisons over the course of the school year puts every partnered teacher in the unique position of growing as a professional in time with the rest of their network, bringing the teaching profession forward as a whole.

Miller, of Delta High School, sees herself continuing to evolve with the times through the work she does with CWU.

“I like to think of myself as a learner, and that’s what makes this fit me so perfectly,” she said. “My appetite for learning is insatiable, and CWU’s College in the High School program offers me more new ways of growing as a teacher and a professional every year.”

In the end, it all comes back to the students, and creating a self-sustaining cycle of great teachers helping them get where they need to go. As Schmitt sees it, the only thing left to do is continue raising the bar.

“What College in the High School has done for us is allow us to equitably put these opportunities wherever they need to go, regardless of proximity to a university or access to high-speed internet,” she said. “The only thing left is for it to keep going. Keep accepting strong teachers, keep helping each other learn and grow, and keep showing our students that a life-changing education is within reach.”

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Related

Full Circle: Abner Ramos Navarro

Abner Ramos Navarro knew he wanted to be a teacher, and he found an opportunity to start down that path through CWU Teacher Academies. The education-focused subsection of College in the High School, launched in 2009, provides students with real classroom experience before graduating from high school.

“The whole experience was super helpful, because it showed me what college is actually like,” Navarro said. “I always knew I wanted to be a teacher, but up until I took those classes, I was super nervous about the rigor of what I was going into. They taught me that I can really do just about anything I set my mind to.”

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Abner Ramos Navarro

Navarro is currently serving as a student ambassador for Teacher Academies while completing his biology and Teach STEM degrees at CWU. As part of his role, he helps run outreach events and campus tours for visiting high school classes, providing students with insight into the CiHS journey.

“Central knows what they’ve got, and they make a great effort to let students know about the incredible opportunity they have,” Navarro said. “Doing that outreach, knowing that someone like me is just waiting for this chance—that makes it all worth it.”

Once he completes his degrees, Navarro hopes to partner with CiHS to keep the cycle of support going and encourage the same college-going culture that led him to where he is today.

“Once I’m out there teaching, I really hope to be able to run a Teacher Academy class,” he said. “The positive impact it’s had on me and my journey can’t be understated, and I’m excited to bring that to the next generation of educators.”


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