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A High School That Looks Like College: How to Prepare Students for the College Experience

While an increasing number of New York City public high school graduates are enrolling in college, a vast number of students arrive unprepared to navigate the college experience. At University Heights High School (UHHS) in the South Bronx, where most students graduate and go on to enroll in a college program, the goal is to ensure students are getting the preparation they need to stay in college and complete their degrees. Reflecting on the school’s work toward this goal, Principal Hazel Joseph said, “The challenge is to create a flexible schedule that gives students more choices while providing additional support to students that need it.” In 2012, Hazel and UHHS staff teamed with Eskolta to create a high school experience that looked and felt similar to college.

After obtaining parent and student input, UHHS staff worked directly with Eskolta School Developer Alicia Wolcott to think about what the high-school-as-college model might look like. Eskolta led a focus group session with students and shared research on career paths with the highest levels of projected growth in the coming decades. Alicia also gathered both teacher and student feedback to offer insights into the design of a new bell schedule and ways to increase student voice and choice. “UHHS teacher teams are trying to reorient their thinking about how classes should be sequenced and scheduled,” said Alicia. “The goal is to really think outside the box and consider different paths to credit accumulation.”

Now students are able to register for courses online, giving them a sense of the college-course-enrollment process. Students choose their own electives that are aligned with career goals, enabling the school to track which subjects are most interesting to students. Additionally, UHHS has revamped its scheduling; classes meet two or three times a week for extended periods of time. Having an open schedule allows UHHS students to simultaneously enroll in college courses as early as tenth grade. Eskolta also helped UHHS to develop a roadmap for success in college and career, which includes milestones such as completing college applications and writing a resume as well as participating in community-oriented projects like mentoring and community service. Building on this work, UHHS piloted an interactive tool for checking in on student progress toward milestone completion, enabling teachers to see where students are hitting hurdles and offer strategies for overcoming them.

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