By Brenda L. Holmes
CLAYTON — Members of the Mill Creek Community School Corporation Board of School Trustees got a crash course in college preparation during recent tours of both Cascade High School and Cascade Middle School.
The board was given a hands-on tour of how the schools are working together to get students ready for what comes after high school. Explaining the changes in curriculum and classes were Cathy Tooley, principal of CHS, and Eric Sieferman, principal of CMS.
Superintendent Pat Spray said he wanted the board to experience how the schools are building a “college culture” for the students.
“We want students to know what they will be doing when they walk off that stage at graduation,” Tooley said. “It all starts at the middle school. We want to produce kids that are going to be competitive with other students.”
One way students are being prepared in middle school is by offering more high school credit classes.
“We had students who were bored in the traditional classrooms,” Sieferman said. “They could get As and Bs with minimal effort.”
The middle school now offers more high school credit algebra and geography courses.
“This was the first year we offered biology in the eighth grade,” he said. “We had 23 take the course and 100 percent passed.”
This school year was also the first time foreign language was offered to eighth-graders. French 1-2 and Spanish 1-2 were offered at PCMS.
Other first-year courses included physical education, and 2D art. Next fall, CMS will add introduction to business to the list of high school credit courses it offers.
The PACE (current event and civics and citizenship) is also a high school credit course offered at CMS. This was the second year this course was offered.
Board members visited the eighth-grade class to see what type of projects the students complete. In recent weeks, the PACE class has been studying the election of 1860. The students are working together in groups to create a “mini-campaign committee.”
Kale Blickenstaff and Elise Phillips co-teach the PACE course.
The additional class options are designed to better prepare students for the high school experience.
Tooley said the peer leader program has been a big help to the freshmen at CHS.
“Students listen to the peer leaders,” she said. “You know, not all kids talk about going to college at home. They need to hear it from one of their fellow classmates.”
She said the peer leaders help instill the need to do well on the high school transcript and how those numbers follow a student throughout their entire high school career.
CHS students also take a college-readiness test to identify those who need help. Statistics show that more than 50 percent of students entering a two-year college and 20 percent of students entering a four-year college are placed in remedial courses.
“That’s an additional burden on our students,” Tooley said. “Those students who don’t pass the college readiness testing are enrolled in a new course called CRC or College Readiness Center.”
The course is taught in collaboration with IVY Tech. It focuses “not only on the academic side of post-secondary education, but on the soft skills necessary for success.”
IVY Tech also brings other college-credit courses to CHS. This school year there were two sections of English 111 and 112. In the fall, there will be four sections of English 111 and 112, political science, and fundamentals of science per semester.
The administration at CHS has also helped to implement new AP courses.
Tooley said one tool the school is using is the SMART program. SMART pairs a teacher with a small group of students. The teacher then stays with that group through their entire high school career. They meet on a near daily basis to discuss a variety of topics. The groups generally meet for 30 minutes, four days a week.
“I believe SMART is assisting us to create a college culture,” Tooley said. “Over the years, the teacher gets to see what the student is interested in. The peers also form relationships.”
In the fall, SMART will get a name change to PCC, which stands for Preparing for College and Careers.
“The students will go with their SMART teachers on two college visits — one small school and one bigger school,” Tooley said. “It’s really neat to see these relationships grow.”