May 31, 2014

Valley Charter High grads tuck college credits under their caps

Innovative charter high school pairs college courses with high school credit to give teens an early start and a smooth pathway to higher learning.

Each high school senior marching across the stage has a dream. Some seniors, however, have a head start on making them happen.

Count Bradley Scott and Annamarie Panganiban in that last group. The two graduated Thursday night as Valley Charter High School valedictorian and salutatorian, respectively. Both leave the school with around two years’ worth of college credits earned and thousands of dollars in scholarships in hand.

Panganiban has 42.5 college credits, bringing her goal of being a doctor two years closer. She’s heading to the University of California at Irvine in the fall, planning to major in biochemistry. She was active on Valley Charter High’s SkillsUSA technical competition team and continues to volunteer at a local hospital and work as a tutor.

She chose to go to Valley Charter, a public charter school adjacent to Modesto Junior College, because she could get college credit and she liked the atmosphere, Panganiban said. “The staff is very supportive, and it’s a small campus,” she said. The school had 213 students this year.

Scott said he chose the school to get a leg up on college, finishing his high school career with 38 college credits in the bank. He heads next to California State University, Fresno.

Graduates from the charter school’s early years, 13 students, had a 92 percent college enrollment rate in 2008-09, the latest year with state figures available. That same year, Beyer High, highest of the large Modesto campuses, had 77 percent of its 371 graduates in college.

This year, 47 students graduated from Valley Charter, 18 with six or more college units. MJC classes that qualify for the so-called A-to-G list, courses that satisfy University of California requirements for admission, get a grade-point boost for level of difficulty on high school report cards. The same is true of Advanced Placement courses at traditional high schools.

Those higher numbers gave both Scott and Panganiban a grade-point average well above the 4.0 of straight A’s.

Standing at an awards ceremony earlier in the week, Scott took a vigorous handshake from parent Kimberly Recinos. Recinos congratulated him on his academics, predicting a rich and rosy future. A parent of three students who went to traditional high schools and a son at Valley Charter, she said, “I know this school is hard – it’s twice as hard as other schools.”

Valley Charter is an early college high school, offering high school credit for courses taken at Modesto Junior College, which also gives credit, said Principal Susan Nisan.

Smoothing the path to college was why these high schools were created with the Early College High School Initiative in 2002, targeting low-income youth, English learners and those whose families have not gone to college. MJC and the Stanislaus County Office of Education partnered to create Valley Charter’s early college program in 2003.

It is one of 41 early college high schools in California, according to Stockton has three: Middle College High School at San Joaquin Delta College; Langston Hughes Academy, paired with California State University, Stanislaus; and Benjamin Holt College Preparatory Academy, aligned with Delta and CSU, Stanislaus.

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