Friday, October 22, 2010 Where students can get ahead of the class

Editor's note: The following article appeared in The Santa Clara Valley Signal October 14, 2010.

Education: Students at local high school earn college credits and diploma

Vivean Muna, 17, enrolled at Valencia High school about two years ago after moving to Valencia from Georgia.

“It was such a big school,” the Kenyan-born student said. “It was so easy for people to get lost in the crowd.”

She soon applied and was accepted to Academy of the Canyons, the William S. Hart Union High School District’s early college high school. The opportunity meant Muna had a chance to study in a small-school environment and take classes at College of the Canyons.

“I enjoy school more now,” the Academy of the Canyons senior said. “It’s so small. So you get to know everybody, and you get to know your teachers a lot more.”

A growing demand
Unlike typical Hart district high schools that have more than 2,000 students each, Academy of the Canyons has about 400 students.

The school merged with Early College High School in 2009 and is in its second year of serving students in grades 9-12, Principal Jill Shenberger said.

While many of the students come from the Hart district’s comprehensive high schools, Academy of the Canyons includes students who were once homeschooled or attended local private schools, Shenberger said.

“One size doesn’t fit all,” Shenberger said. “For some kids, they just need a different path.”

Students must go through an application and interview process to attend Academy of the Canyons. The school typically tries to seek out students who are among the first in their families to attend college, are socioeconomically disadvantaged, underrepresented on college campuses or show high potential but are considered “at-risk,” she said.

College students in high school
Students at Academy of the Canyons are able to enroll in college classes at College of the Canyons, where they can potentially earn up to 60 college credits before graduating high school, Shenberger said.

Students earn anywhere from 24 to 44 credits, which still puts them past the number of credits they need for the first year of college, she said.

It’s an experience that Muna looks forward to when she comes to school on her campus located at the Dr. Dianne G. Van Hook University Center on the COC Valencia campus.

“I at least get a taste of what it’ll be like when I go to college,” said Muna, who hopes to graduate with about 40 college credits. “Who can say that when they were in high school, they were also in college?”

She hopes to graduate high school this year, attend a university in the northeast and eventually become a doctor for the United Nations, she said.

Science teacher Michele Siner said Academy of the Canyons students graduate with four years of college experience. “I think it ensures them success in college,” Siner said.

Siner, who has spent 15 years teaching, finds that her students are unique.

“They’re driven, and they care about where they’re going in life,” she said.

The dedication shows when it comes to state testing.

For the last two years, students have earned a 100-percent pass rate on the annual high school exit exam.

The school’s Academic Performance Index score, which takes into account a number of state tests, is 930 of a maximum 1,000.

Although the school doesn’t have its own sports teams, Academy of the Canyons has several student clubs, serving interests like American Sign Language and knitting. The school’s student-government program is thriving, and students even have a yearbook class.

Students have found a way to make the school their own.

“It’s all about your individualism,” said senior Cristian Cardenas. “Being able to be who you are and not be confined by tradition.”