Youth in both Humboldt and Del Norte counties will be able to get high school and college credit simultaneously next year in two new "early college" programs.
The Yurok tribe and College of the Redwoods are planning such a program in Klamath. Meanwhile, a separate partnership among CR, the Humboldt County Office of Education and the Fortuna Union High School District is also starting to take shape. The programs allow students to earn up to two years of college credit, or an associate's degree, along with their high school diploma.
"The game plan is we capture students at the eighth or ninth grade level and prepare them very deliberately, systematically and individually to do college-level work," said CR Vice President David Throgmorton.
Nationwide, close to half of American Indian teens drop out of high school, said Geneva Wortman, deputy executive director of the Yurok tribe. And those who do graduate seldom go on to college
"They have very few doors open," Wortman said.
The Klamath River Early College of the Redwoods aims to change this in Del Norte County. While any student able to handle an intellectually rigorous, individually tailored curriculum is eligible, the school will specifically reach out to American Indian youth.
"I think what's really unique about this particular school is there will be a focus on local native culture," Wortman said.
She said they're modeling the curriculum after a school in Alaska that used Alaskan Native culture into the curriculum. That community, which had previously seen high rates of poverty, unemployment and substance abuse, saw a decrease in these problems as students took more pride in their culture and did better academically, Wortman said. For example, a student might go hunting with her father and demonstrate what she'd learned to her teacher.
"It will be an experience-based curriculum, meaning that instead of sitting in the classroom and learning about the rivers, they will be down at the river," Throgmorton said.
Klamath currently has no high school; students who live there commute to Crescent City by bus to attend Del Norte High School. The new school will open with about 40 students next fall, Wortman said. Students who sign up will be asked to commit to a minimum of three years. But, as Wortman points out, they'll be earning college credits tuition-free.
CR received grants for both programs, principally from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.
Humboldt State University education professor Keri Gelenian has been hired as principal of Academy of the Redwoods, located on CR's main campus south of Eureka.
Gelenian has been visiting with eighth-graders in Fortuna and surrounding communities. He said he's also heard from parents who homeschool their children but are interested in the early college. The Academy of the Redwoods will start off with about 65 ninth-graders this fall, adding another 65 to 70 students for each of the next three years, he said.
A former middle school and high school teacher before joining HSU's faculty, Gelenian said he'd always dreamed of creating a school and is now able to help make it a reality. He said a team of administrators and faculty from CR, HSU, Fortuna Union High School District and the Humboldt County Office of Education have been working to make it happen.
"Our early college high school may very well be the only one statewide where the teachers have been involved in every phase of school development," Gelenian said.
Those teachers -- Pam Barkdull, Steve Irwin, and Bruce McCarthy -- will teach at the Academy of the Redwoods next fall. The trio previously worked together at Century Hall, Fortuna High's now defunct school-within-a-school.
"It's going to be a different kind of program, but I think what the teachers bring is a real progressive attitude, an intellectual attitude, more of an adult message to kids about learning and intellectual activity and life," Gelenian said. "That's what makes them, I think, phenomenal."
A community meeting on the Klamath proposal will take place Sunday from 12:30 to 3:30 p.m. at the Yurok tribal office in Klamath.
A parents' night is scheduled for Feb. 10 from 7 to 9 p.m. at the Fortuna High School Library. Applications for the school will be due March 18. For more information, call 476-4177.
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