The Advanced Diploma program is gaining traction at Crook County High School

by: KEVIN SPERL - Becky Munn, Career & College Readiness Coordinator at Crook County High School (RIGHT), meets with students Miranda Smith (CENTER) and Tasha Bitner at the school's Future Center.

High school on the five-year plan is catching on in Crook County.

The Oregon Department of Education (ODE) calls it the “power of the fifth year.”

Crook County High School (CCHS) Principal Michelle Jonas calls it “what is best for our kids and families.”

The Advanced Diploma Program (ADP), managed by Becky Munn and Kate Worthing, career and college readiness coordinators at the school’s “Future Center,” is offered, as a fifth-year option, to students that successfully earn the “traditional” four-year diploma.

Earning college credits, receiving support during the transition from high school to college, and enrolling for that first year of college at little, or no cost, are important components of the program. ADP pays for the student's first year's tuition, books and fees, at Central Oregon Community College and other schools.

“The ADP gives kids a chance to help alleviate the feeling they can't go to college because of money,” said Worthing. “It gives them the confidence to take that first step.”

Worthing and Munn help students with the logistics of getting through that first year of college, hoping that it leads to a successful second year.

Students entering ADP have fulfilled all of the requirements needed to obtain their high school diploma in four years, but have chosen ADP so that they can be successful at the college level.

“They walk with their graduating class, but just don’t get their diploma,” said Munn,

emphasizing that the students in ADP are treated as college students in every sense of the word.

“They are not considered a high school student anymore, and cannot take part in athletics or other extracurricular activities,” she added. “And, they must enroll in the fall term immediately following spring graduation.”

Deferring receipt of that diploma, however, negatively impacts Crook County’s graduation rate, as calculated by ODE. The recently released 2013 graduation rate report shows that 38-percent of the 2009 Crook County High School freshman class graduated in 2013, compared to 68-percent state-wide. Given that the school's rate was 62-percent in 2012, the drop is significant, although not overly surprising to the school's administration.

“We take our graduation and drop-out data very seriously,” said Jonas, “However, we were expecting this drop in performance this year [due to fifth-year programs] and we’ve warned our stakeholders that this would happen.”

Jonas noted that, if students taking advantage of the school's fifth-year programs were counted in the graduation rate, it would rise to 84-percent, well above the state average.

Crook County's ADP, started in September of 2013, enrolled 45 students, with the vast majority taking classes at the four campuses of Central Oregon Community College.

CCHS Senior Miranda Smith wants to be a veterinarian and was visiting the Future Center, located in a sunny corner of the school's library, seeking help in completing scholarship applications.

She was also considering ADP.

“It is a great opportunity to get a free year of education,” she said, adding that it will also allow her to complete curriculum requirements and improve her grades.

Four years ago, Worthing and Munn shared a 10-hour position, working as student mentors. One year later, their time commitment grew to 20 hours each and, in September of 2013, became full time for both of them.

That quick growth proves to Munn that the need exists for a program like ADP, and that the community supports their efforts.

“I am excited to help encourage each individual student in this community to positively look ahead,” said Worthing. “I felt that kids here didn’t know about college opportunities and other post secondary choices.”

Worthing and Munn closely monitor students to ensure their success, while maintaining high standards, and expectations.

“If a student is failing after the first term, we do what we can to help them do better, “ said Worthing. “But, if they are still failing in the second term, we ask that they withdraw.”

Munn added that poor academic performance, while not preventing a student from continuing in college, does impact their ability to obtain financial aid in their second year.

“We are trying to build accountability in students regarding their attendance, approach and performance,” said Munn.

Believing that student success is more important than statistics, Worthing questions the relevance of the published graduation rates as the sole measure of that success.

“Why do we continue to measure student success the same way when we also feel that education needs to be different?” she asks. “Are we working to change the culture about education or are we just interested in measuring graduation rates?”

Crook County School District Curriculum Director Stacy Smith fully supports the options offered by the high school.

“I like that our vulnerable student groups have options other than traditional schools, “ he said . “And, we have asked our district partners to continue to work to improve the data in these areas.”

For Worthing, she's simply committed to helping students get the most out of their education, regardless of how it's measured.

“Students are here [in high school] for 6,400 hours,” she laughed, “So, let’s all make the best of it!”

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