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By Ron Feemster
NewYork City
dgar Guzmanmoved here from Ecuador less than
two years ago. A 15-year-old high school student with
limited English skills at the time, he is doing college work
at LaGuardia Community College in Queens today. Guzman
did not skip a grade or test out of any high school classes. He
became a part-time college student when International High
School, on the LaGuardia campus, began its transformation
into an “early college,” a high school-college hybrid that aims
to graduate students with an Associate of Arts degree as well
as a high school diploma.
In the next few years, scores of new “early colleges” are
expected to open around the country. All are attempting to
foster a smoother and quicker passage to higher education.
Many, modeled on the new programs at LaGuardia, aim
to catapult students directly into college who entered high
school at risk of dropping out.
Guzman is one of about thirty 11th graders from
International and neighboring Middle College High School to
begin the “Excel” program, which will expand over the next
several years to include nearly all students in the two schools.
Excel students attend high school an extra year, finishing the
“thirteenth grade” with an associate’s degree.
Most of International’s students arrived in the United
States less than four years ago and entered the high school
seeking extra help with English. Without it, they might not
have survived in one of New York’s mammoth public high
schools. At International, where catching up in English is
part of every student’s program, learning a new language
and culture has never been considered a handicap or
disadvantage. If anything, students there seem to be more
confident and ambitious than elsewhere. “I like to put
myself in hard things,” said Guzman, a quiet young man
who plans to become a medical doctor in the United States
and eventually a politician in Ecuador. “I can save time and
money if I get the AA degree now.”
Middle College High, which also has a high immigrant
population, recruits students who have had difficulties in
the public school system. Some have lost a year to illness,
to family strife, or to trips back and forth between the U.S.
and their native countries. More have simply lost their way
in a complicated, anonymous system that serves 1.1 million
Both high schools are small—about 500 students each—
and they have used their location on the community college
campus to foster an adult atmosphere of responsibility and
opportunity. Students at both institutions have always had
the option to take college classes during high school. This has
kept talented students moving forward at International, in
particular, where immigrants are often a year or two ahead
Winter 2003
“Early Colleges”
Innovative institutions attempt to reshape the transition from high school to college
in mathematics or computer science even as they are behind
in English. At Middle College, the mere presence of older,
successful students has provided motivation.
Sylvester Rodriguez, a 17-year-old raised on the gritty
south side of Williamsburg, a poor neighborhood in
Brooklyn, is surprised by the ambition he has developed
since ninth grade. Many of his
neighborhood friends left school
without a diploma, and he admits
to choosing Middle College
because the school gives students
the afternoon off on Wednesdays,
and because its assessment
system, based on portfolio
performance, makes it exempt
from the New York State Regents
exams, which most of the state’s
high school seniors must take.
Instead of choosing the easy
way through high school, he is
now joining Excel, even though
he will be in school until 5:15 p.m.
every day and must take his share of college-level exams.
“My teachers told me I can do this,” said Rodriguez, the
only son of a Puerto Rican single mother who brought him
to New York as an infant. “If they give me the help I need,
I’ll do what I have to do. If I’m going to high school an extra
Linda Campbell, of Antioch University, heads a group that plans to open early
colleges for Native Americans in the state of Washington.
In the next few years,
scores of new early
colleges are expected to
open around the country.
All are attempting to
foster a smoother and
quicker passage to higher
Steve Sheldon, Black Star, for CrossTalk