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Step2theU gives Alta High students edge in completing general education college coursework

Dec 01, 2017 08:00AM ● Published by Julie Slama

The first class of Alta High School students earning a general education certificate from the University of Utah will finish in the summer of 2018. (Brian McGill/Alta High School)

In his final year at Alta High, Nate Brown doesn’t know the word “senioritis.”

Brown is juggling five advanced placement classes in preparation for seven tests this year, he is a member of the school’s Academic Decathlon and Model United Nations teams, he just competed in the national fencing tournament this summer  and was recently named the only National Merit Scholarship semifinalist at his school.

“I’m a pretty good test taker, so I got a PSAT study guide from the library and ran through those before taking the test last year,” he said. 

Brown is one of 14 Canyons School District’s National Merit semifinalists who are competing against 16,000 other top high school students — fewer than 1 percent of U.S. high school seniors — for $7,500 scholarships. Other local semifinalists include August Burton and Aaron Jackson, of Corner Canyon High; Daniel Ross, of Jordan High; Richard Abbott, Bryson Armstrong, Mohammed Khan, Chu Un Kim, Kara Komarnitsky, Madeline Martin, Joshua Raty, Alexander Sun and Vivek Vankayalapati, of Hillcrest High; and Joshua Brodbeck, of Brighton High.

With the results just recently released, Brown knew that much of the finalist standing relied upon his SAT score, which he took in early November. 

“I feel pretty good about it,” he said, but the National Honor Society student and Alta’s Sterling Scholar in social studies doesn’t have time to focus on the outcome. 

Not only is Brown a lead as the Tin Man in his first Alta High musical, “Wizard of Oz,” he is one of 36 Alta High School students who is taking part of the new early college pathway program, Step2theU, created by Alta High Principal Brian McGill. 

“It’s an awesome thing. We’re reaping the benefits of getting our generals done before we are even college students. This along with AP classes will really help me out in college,” Brown said, adding that he would like to study aerospace engineering and law.

Brown and his classmates spent nine weeks this past summer cracking the books in their desire to earn general education coursework at the University of Utah. He said together the class made a mural for art credit, gave five-minute speeches for their communication class final, interviewed leaders and wrote 10-page papers for humanities and wrote and analyzed several speeches for a writing class.

“Through taking general education classes in the summer between their junior and senior year, then college math during their senior year and more classes the summer after their high school graduation, they can receive a general education certificate from the University of Utah,” McGill said.

University of Utah professors at the Sandy campus teach the program.

“It will save students about $13,000 to $15,000 in tuition and fees and be in class sizes with their peers of about 35 students instead of being in halls of hundreds of students,” he said. Students may enter the University of Utah as a junior and graduate in half the normal four-year time. “It’s unique in public schools. It’s taking a comprehensive traditional high school and offering an early college component.”

McGill, who before coming to Alta had been principal at the Academy of Math, Engineering and Science (AMES), said AMES is considered an early-college high school.

“The focus is directed at the transition to college and getting those students the first years of college while they are in high school,” he said. “While I wanted to be a traditional high school principal, I can see the value of that program. So I said if I ever became a principal at a traditional high school, I wanted to see the vision of a hybrid blend of early college and a comprehensive high school turn into a reality.”

McGill said it made sense to introduce the idea at Alta High since many students focus on advanced placement classes and concurrent enrollment and want to be academically challenged. They also are student leaders at their school and in their community.

“We didn’t just look at their academics — courses and grade-point average — but also about their leadership and participation in activities,” he said, adding that financial need also was reviewed.

Students also wrote short essays about why they were interested in participating in the program and how they had to demonstrate resiliency and what they learned from the experience, McGill said. Letters of recommendation also were reviewed.

Then, teams from both Alta High and the University of Utah reviewed the applicants for the selection of the first candidates in the program.

The cost to students, about $5 per semester hour, totals to $150 per semester. McGill said Canyons School District helps to subsidize the cost to pay for university professors’ salaries and other activities and field trips involved in the Step2theU program.

In addition, an Alta High graduate who currently is enrolled at the U serves as a mentor to help students with coursework and questions.

The first students through the program will complete their general education coursework summer of 2018. Currently, they are enrolled in a college-level mathematics class — trigonometry, algebra, statistics or qualitative analysis — this fall. 

This February, a second tier of Alta High students can apply to the program.

“We have mature, highly motivated, academically astute students who have completed the summer block and are committed to success. This partnership is just giving them an option to be successful in their education,” McGill said.  

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