New college prep program enrolls Chugiak-Eagle River teens

Friday, September 15, 2017 - 12:14
  • Anchorage School District Superintendent Dr. Deena Bishop addresses Alaska Middle College School students at the University of Alaska’s Chugiak-Eagle River campus on Aug. 21, 2017. The AMCS program, new to ASD, allows high school students to earn college credits while working toward their high school diplomas. (Star photo by Kirsten Swann)
  • Alaska Middle College School students at the University of Alaska’s Chugiak-Eagle River campus on Aug. 21, 2017. The AMCS program, new to ASD, allows high school students to earn college credits while working toward their high school diplomas. (Star photo by Kirsten Swann)
  • Anchorage School District Superintendent Dr. Deena Bishop addresses Alaska Middle College School students at the University of Alaska’s Chugiak-Eagle River campus on Aug. 21, 2017. The AMCS program, new to ASD, allows high school students to earn college credits while working toward their high school diplomas. (Star photo by Kirsten Swann)

When Anchorage School District students returned to class Monday morning, nearly 12 dozen of them tried something new: a hybrid college prep program known as the Alaska Middle College School.

“We’re proud that you took a chance on us,” said ASD Superintendent Dr. Deena Bishop, addressing an atrium full of teenagers at the University of Alaska’s Chugiak-Eagle River campus Aug. 21. “Thanks for filling out the application.”

The program is a fast track to college and an entirely new approach for the Anchorage School District, according to administrators.

Previously run through the Matanuska-Susitna Borough School District, the Middle College is now a partnership between the University of Alaska Anchorage and ASD. Students can earn college credits while simultaneously working toward high school graduation, and successful students can walk away with a high school diploma and an associate’s degree, according to the school district.

Many of the teens said they’re in it for the head start.

“I feel like it would be good to get a start on college while I’m younger so then there’s less cost,” said Jackson Kendall, who spent two years at Eagle River High School before transferring to Chugiak then enrolling in the Middle College program this year.

The week before classes began, Kendall and his mom and some 50 other students and their families congregated in the Chugiak auditorium for an AMCS orientation session – the last one before the start of the new school year. While rain pounded the auditorium roof and crowds gathered for a football game on the turf outside, the students listened as UAA faculty and ACMS staff took the stage to describe the weeks to come.

“What you’re about to do is tremendous, it’s complex and you’re going to have a lot of support, but what I want to put in perspective for you is that you are going to be a high school student and a college student at the same time,” said Kim Griffis, associate dean of UAA’s Community &Technical College.

Students will take most of their classes on the Chugiak-Eagle River university campus, with the option to enroll in elective courses and participate in social activities at their home high schools, program administrators said. Balancing the schedule and course requirements will take dedication and communication, Griffis said.

Be prepared, she said to students. And be proud.

“You’re going to have an edge,” Griffis said at the Aug. 16 orientation. “You are a program that is leading the way in Alaska, making us think about how education is delivered.”

Eagle River junior Tate Carlson listened from his seat near the back of the auditorium. For him, AMCS is the first step in a larger plan to get to medical school.

“I was just happy about the two free years of college,” he said.

His mother, Natalie Carlson, was too.

“As soon as they announced it at his school and he told me about it, we jumped on it — I think we put his application in that night or the next,” said Carlson, sitting next to her son in the crowded Steve Primis Auditorium at CHS.

Saving time and money on a college education seemed like a no-brainer, she said.

“I’m actually surprised that there’s not more kids taking advantage of this,” Carlson said.

Offering space for about 200 enrollees, the program started this school year with about 140, according to AMCS administrators. There are students from every Anchorage high school, but the majority of AMCS students currently come from Chugiak and Eagle River, said Marty Lang, principal at Eagle River High School and the newly formed Middle College.

“I am really excited about this opportunity for kids, because there are a lot of students over the years who’ve had the maturity, both academically and socially, to be ready to take that next step beyond high school,” Lang said of the students. “We’ve now opened that pathway for them to do so.”

Word about the program had spread fast through local high schools.

At Eagle River High School, Tate Carlson convinced two of his friends to try it out with him, his mom said. At CHS, “A lot of people seemed to be at least interested in it,” said AMCS junior Elizabeth Mattey.

One of those students was Jackson Kendall.

“One of my friends is doing it this year and a couple of others are considering it and my younger brother is wanting to do it, so I wanted to see what it’s all about,” Kendall said. “I thought that would be useful.”

He’s not alone. Next year, program administrators are preparing for expected growth, they said. Maybe one day the program will expand onto the main UAA campus, Lang said.

“We would love to have the problem of having more students than we can accommodate out here,” Lang said. “We’ll see if we grow to that capacity.”

For now, at least, the ASD Middle College remains exclusive to Eagle River.

Contact Star reporter Kirsten Swann at kirsten.swann@alaskastar.com.

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