One of the high school’s goals is for every student to receive college credit for at least one class before graduating, said Evan Hordyk, the district’s executive director for secondary education. Well-established Advanced Placement (AP) opportunities, along with a college launching next fall, will make this possible.
East Kentwood students already earn college credit by choosing from a list of 21 AP classes. Soon they will be able to get a free associate degree from Grand Rapids Community College by completing a fifth year of high school while being dual-enrolled as a college student.
It’s a way to give students a head start, in a setting where they feel comfortable. “We provide a very supportive home environment here, so taking a college course where they have those supports can help them do better,” Hordyk said.
Add a fifth year = associate degree
The district will begin Middle College with its first cohort of 10th graders next fall. Students will take college courses at East Kentwood as well as high school courses and then complete a fifth year at the GRCC campus. Successful completion of the program will earn them a general associate degree with transferable credits to most four-year colleges and universities. Other Middle College programs established through GRCC partnerships include Wyoming High School, Cedar Springs High School, and Ottawa Hills High School. Kenowa Hills High School has a partnership with Davenport University.
“The most obvious and important benefit for students and parents is that tuition is covered,” Hordyk said. Considering that a student entering a four-year university just after their senior year pays on average more than $20,000 including room and boardthe savings are potentially huge and put students a year ahead of schedule.
“We have an opportunity for students, whether they have economic need or not, to walk out of here with an associate degree,” Principal Omar Bakri said.
For several years, East Kentwood students have pursued dual enrollment opportunities with GRCC, Kendall and Davenport, with over 100 students participating last year.
Dan Clark, dean of academic outreach at Grand Rapids Community College, said the partnership is their sixth college partnership. The programs fill a need, especially for economically disadvantaged students and those who are the first members of their families to attend university.
“It certainly allows and provides greater opportunities for access and success for some students who probably weren’t going to go to college,” he said.
The programs have also led to increased collaboration between secondary schools and the GRCC. “If institutions can partner in a way that benefits students, families and the community, it’s a win-win for everyone,” Clark said.
A renowned AP program
East Kentwood also has one of the most comprehensive AP programs available, with 21 classes including AP courses in science, English, math, economics, government, and art. Last year, the school got a US News and World Report Silver Medal for achievements, including the fact that 35% of students take AP tests and, of those, 73% pass them.
These courses provide students with college-level opportunities that they might not otherwise have. They’re not just for high-achieving students, Hordyk said.
“One of the things we’re quite proud of is that in 2017, 1,000 AP exams were taken. If you go back five years, just under 600 were taken, so we’ve almost doubled that number. The rate of passing a passing grade, a 3, 4, or 5 on the AP exam, has remained high. “We’ve added a lot of kids and they’re still very successful.”
East Kentwood is the most diverse school in the state (as ranked by Niche, a data organization) with students from over 60 countries represented. Much of the increase in AP enrollment has come from ethnically diverse students, “groups that haven’t traditionally been part of the AP,” Hordyk said.
Graduate Justin Lai, a freshman at the University of Michigan pursuing a degree in computer engineering, recently stopped by to visit his AP physics professor Laura Sloma. He took nine AP courses before graduating last spring and said he was happy to have a head start. “As far as preparation goes, it was good to have a tougher workload to prepare for college.”
Michigan’s current teacher of the year had a high AP pass rate