The Star-News

District partners with Grand Canyon

Fri, Feb 01 2013 12:00 PM Posted By: Allison K. Sampité-montecalvo

Juniors and seniors in the Sweetwater Union High School District have another opportunity to receive college credit through a new pilot program.

A memorandum of understanding between district Superintendent Dr. Ed Brand and Phoenix-based Grand Canyon University was locked in Dec. 1 last year.

The arrangement stemmed from a November board vote, which included the establishment of Sweetwater U.

“The board approved my goals and objectives for 2012-13,” Brand said. “Then I began working on the agreement with Sweetwater U.”

The agreement provides district requirements, which include conducting periodic marketing efforts specifically targeted at potential students for the programs, communicating benefits of programs to employees and communicating to districtwide personnel regarding benefits.

During a parent/student information meeting held last week, Bonita Vista High senior Claudia Ruvalcaba learned about a seven-week course in communications.

Ruvalcaba, who has an interest in public relations and broadcast, said she prefers an alternative to Southwestern College.

“I know they’re affordable, it’s just not my preference,” she said.

Parent Jeff Stewart says he appreciates another option for his daughter Kristen, a junior at Eastlake High School.

“I was amazed that this was going to be offered through Sweetwater,” Stewart said. “The sooner my daughter can get experience taking a college online course the better.”

Kristen is interested in marketing and communications and also prefers another option.

“For me it’d be easier to get it done and cheaper when I went to college,” Kristen said.

Eligible high school juniors and seniors would pay $52.50 per credit and $75 for a mandatory e-book. The communications class is four credits, costing $210, totaling $285.

“Communications courses can be transferred widely amongst universities,” Grand Canyon University development manager Cameron Whitcomb said. “It’s been very, very successful in other parts of the state. They (students) have an opportunity to get ahead of the curve.”

The district’s executive director of curriculum and instruction Maria Castilleja said the joint venture is an effort to expand options for high school students.

“It’s simply one more opportunity to offer,” Castilleja said. “It’s about choices.”

The agreement with Grand Canyon University is one of several to offer students approved online courses and programs. Others are UCSD, National University Virtual High School, Brigham Young University and Southwestern College.

Students can choose a course from a list of A-G approved schools.

District curriculum counselor Nancy Castro-Neito runs the district’s Compact for Success program, which aims to increase the number of students attending and graduating from SDSU.

“Our students use schools like BYU to get high school credit as well and specifically for health…” Castro-Neito said. “If students take those specific classes we can give them high school credits because the UCs accept that.”

On Oct. 17, 2011, the board approved changing high school graduation requirements to match A-G curriculum benchmarks, moving the district toward creating a college-bound culture.

District board member Bertha Lopez opposed a resolution to establish Sweetwater U in November last year saying it was not well thought out and asked for more details.

Last week she questioned why a partnership with a private Christian university was necessary in the first place.

“I opposed it because we have an excellent community college, which is Southwestern College, that can offer the children the same resources for online credits at a cheaper rate,” Lopez said.

Southwestern College offers free “college bound classes” on each campus taught by adjunct professors with books provided.

Brand said the district still uses Southwestern College, but that its current partner universities are becoming more and more crowded.

“San Diego State had 76,000 applicants for about 5,000 spots this year and UC San Diego had a whole lot more than they could let in,” Brand said. “It’s my belief that having additional options for students to explore is warranted in order to be competitive.”

“The difference is we’re allowing students at a younger age to access the curriculum.”

Students must be at least 15 years old and completed their sophomore year.

“In my opinion, being an educator, online courses — it’s not for everyone,” Lopez. “Our students — kinder through twelfth grade, they need direct instruction in order for them to gain the skills that are going to be needed for the workforce and in college.”

Castro-Nieto agrees they’re not for everyone.

“Some of our students need to concentrate on what they need to do just to graduate high school,” she said.

However, she said the option is available.

“It’s a program that our kids can take advantage of if they have the will and the means,” Castro-Neito said. “We want our kids to be competitive when they’re applying to the universities.”

A link to Grand Canyon appeared up on the district’s website Jan. 14, according to district spokesman Manny Rubio.

“Our long-term plan is to have 10, 20 universities that would come under that umbrella of Sweewater U,” Brand said.

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