Off the ground running

by Andrew Edwards

Horizon Reporter

Sitting on a brightly lit stage, 62 graduating high school seniors looked over a crowd of proud teachers and parents at a reception ceremony on May 24 at Whatcom Community College.  As their names were called, each student stood to be recognized for the impressive achievement of earning both a diploma and an associate’s degree during their time in high school.

These graduates were all part of Washington State’s Running Start program, which lets qualified high school juniors and seniors replace their school’s curriculum with college courses.

“It takes a lot of dedication and organization” to earn a degree in two years, said Sarah Pearson, associate director for Running Start at Whatcom.  To accomplish this, “a lot of the time it means they’ve taken extra credits.”

Members of this program use the state funds that are normally given to public schools to cover the costs of their education to pay for classes at a participating community college or university, said Laine Johnston, director of the Running Start program at Whatcom.

For advanced students that meet the entry requirements, a lot of time and money can be saved by moving onto college classes instead of filling their schedule with electives, said Johnston.  “We see good students who have run out of classes to take at their high school,” she said.

Whatcom has around 800 Running Start students in addition to 3500 other students pursuing a transfer degree, giving it the highest percentage of Running Start students in Washington, said Johnston.

“There’s too many of them for me to know who they all are,” Johnston said.

“I wanted to get out of my school,” said Hannah MacDonald, 18, a Running Start student who will earn an A.A. after summer quarter.  “I wanted to get a head start on my college career.”

Johnston said a college schedule which only requires attending a few classes a day is attractive for most students, and some considering Running Start incorrectly see it as an easy alternative to taking high school classes.  “The challenge is knowing that you’re ready to be more independent,” she said.

“I think it’s a program you have to be motivated for,” said Running Start student Hannah Rooth.  “I assumed that teachers wouldn’t babysit you in college.”

“Running Start is challenging, but it’s a great opportunity,” said Navdeep Toor, 18, who will graduate from Whatcom at the end of this quarter.  A lot of what is learned from Running Start comes from getting a “preview of college life,” while still in high school, she said.

Johnston said that learning to work around professors’ schedules and being held accountable for completing work on time can be an experience that helps young students “to grow up.”

“There is a lot more to Whatcom than just classes,” said MacDonald, who added that one of the most significant lessons she learned was the importance of collaborating with other students.  “Coming to Whatcom has made me more outgoing,” she said.

“I’ve learned how to relate to people of different ages better,” said Rooth.  By becoming involved with clubs and groups across campus, Rooth said she has been exposed to different experiences that she might not have been comfortable with in high school.

“Running Start has been a good foundation for an understanding of life,” said Rooth.

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