Kanawha County students could attend a community college for their entire high school career and simultaneously graduate from high school and earn an associate degree within those four years, under a plan being developed.
Jon Duffy, the school system’s counseling and testing director, said the Pennsylvania-based Claude Worthington Benedum Foundation has given $200,000 toward starting the program.
Here’s the current plan, according to Duffy:
Students would be assigned to their normal public high school, where they could still play in the band, play sports or take part in other extracurriculars.
But at the start of each school day, Kanawha bus drivers would take participating students from their high school to the South Charleston campus of BridgeValley Community and Technical College.
They would attend that college full time, under the tutelage of the college’s faculty and a handful of Kanawha high school teachers — one each for math, English, science and social studies. The school system also would provide a counselor and, possibly, an administrator on the college’s campus.
Tuition would be free.
At the end of each day, bus drivers would return the students to their home high schools.
Duffy said Wednesday that the goal is to start the program in August with about 60 students, 20 each from Capital, George Washington and South Charleston high schools.
Pete Soscia, BridgeValley’s chief academic officer, said earlier this week that there would only be about 15 to 30 students total at the start.
Both men said the pioneering group would be all 10th-graders, with the goal of inducting ninth-graders later.
“This is really big, really challenging, and only good can come of it if we can make it work — good this community desperately needs,” Soscia said.
Duffy said Kanawha already partners with West Virginia State University to allow high-schoolers to start working toward a bachelor’s degree by attending classes there full time. But he said that program typically doesn’t enroll high school freshmen, doesn’t provide student transportation and is geared more toward “A” students.
He said this new “early college” program is “attempting to target some of those students who might be in the middle academically, or low-income, or first in their family to go to college, who certainly still have the academic abilities of college-level work.”
Duffy said the goal would be for them to graduate high school with a diploma and an associate degree, but the minimum would be a diploma and 30 college credit hours — half the way to the two-year associate degree.
Soscia said resources from the county school system, BridgeValley and industry partners would combine to support these students.
“We’ve got to make sure these kids have food and winter clothes,” he said. “And when they don’t show up for school, we have to find out why. They’ve got to be here.”
Soscia said the partners in this program need to create an environment for students that allows them “to raise expectations of themselves and then provides them with supports to be successful — and that’s educational, it’s social, it’s physical, it’s sort of a holistic wraparound service that helps students be more successful, and what happens is a lot of these students are really smart, they’re just bored to tears.”
The two men said that, through this program, students can visit companies and take part in internships and apprenticeships.
The long-term possibilities, and funding, for the program are unclear, though.
Duffy estimated about 150 to 200 students taking part in the future, and opening it up to all eight of the county’s public high schools.
Soscia said it might take years, but he envisions not only 200 students at the South Charleston campus but 200 more at BridgeValley’s other campus, in Montgomery, possibly serving more than just Kanawha students.
Regarding Montgomery, Duffy said, “We have not had a great deal of discussion about the role the Montgomery campus would play,” saying the South Charleston campus is “in a reasonable distance for seven of our eight high schools.”
Riverside High is closest to Montgomery.
BridgeValley also has been considering moving much of its South Charleston campus to Charleston. Duffy said Kanawha wouldn’t necessarily be opposed to continuing the program there, “but that hasn’t been part of our discussions.”
Duffy said criteria for student admissions are still being finalized and that a big recruitment push would start soon.