Early Middle College – What is It?

Principal Keevin O’Neill.

By Sue Moore

“You mean I can get an associate’s degree from KVCC without paying a dime?” The answer is yes—if a student is willing to commit to a thirteenth year of high school. Students could earn their associate’s degree without being a part of this program as well through the dual enrollment options, Schoolcraft Superintendent explained.

Schoolcraft is piloting Early Middle College under the auspices of KRESA, while Vicksburg’s school board just approved it for the 2015/16 school year, based upon a presentation by the consortium director, Jim Murphy. The other seven Kalamazoo County schools, expect to offer the option in one form or another, he said. “For many this is going to be like the Kalamazoo Promise only in our own school district,” Superintendent Charlie Glaes told the board.

Technically, the student chooses a track of courses in the arts, graphic design or machine tool technology. “The idea is to target a certain group of students,” Keevin O’Neill explained to the Vicksburg School Board. Along with their regular courses, students wanting to enroll in this Early Middle College, will get started in the ninth grade with basic career development counseling. In tenth grade, they would take college writing, reading and math skills as part of their curriculum. In eleventh grade, the emphasis would be on academic behavior, college knowledge [by some exposure to classes at KVCC] and in twelfth grade, they would be given academic skill building and college survival information. Grade thirteen would be spent at KVCC’s campus with a mentoring program, such as a personal coach,” O’Neill pointed out.

The student would not graduate with a diploma from either Schoolcraft or Vicksburg until the fifth year is completed, but both schools plan to develop a policy to let the student walk with his or her own graduating class. Upon successful completion in the year 13 at KVCC, they will have earned a high school diploma and two-year college associates degree, all at no cost to them except for the hard work needed to succeed. “They could earn but don’t have to receive their associate’s degree to be a part of the Early Middle College,” Stitt said.

There are several different models of course delivery, according to O’Neill. The students could go to KVCC to take classes. The KVCC teachers could come to the Schoolcraft or Vicksburg location to teach classes. “We are working on the transportation issues and trying to maximize and utilize the current structures, perhaps even getting our own teachers certified to teach KVCC courses.”

The cost is totally underwritten by the ‘foundation’ money the state pays each school district, currently $7,200. Each school receives those dollars into the fifth year. They then turn around and pay KVCC for the cost of taking classes, plus a small amount to the consortium at of KRESA, that has planned and produced the program in conjunction with the state of Michigan.

“We’ve got to do a better job directing kids. It’s great to have another option, and very important to guide and find the right niche for students. We need to determine our target population [for this program],” David Schriemer, Vicksburg’s school board trustee remarked.

The goal is to benefit local employers by helping young adults into vocations such as welding and machine tooling, where there is a shortage of skilled workers. It’s a long-term win for taxpayers, if it improves high school and college completion rates as anticipated. It will be a tool for increasing good-paying jobs, according to an editorial written in the Kalamazoo Gazette, who came out in support of the concept.

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