CLEARMONT — Jennifer Betz suggested it in 2004 to give upperclassmen at Arvada-Clearmont High School another option: taking classes for college credit. There had already been a few students take other courses for credit through Sheridan College, but Betz wanted to expand the classes to include social studies options, the subject she teaches students in grades seven through 12.
Fourteen years later, Betz continues to teach postsecondary classes. She is one of four teachers in Sheridan County School District 3 certified to teach college-level courses. With more teachers able to offer classes for college credit, more students have taken advantage of the opportunity.
Cody Ball, Sheridan College director of dual and concurrent enrollment, said all ACHS seniors in the past several years have taken at least one class for college credit. The classes are either dual courses taken online through Sheridan College with a college instructor or concurrent courses at the high school with certified teachers. This year, there are 11 ACHS students — all eight seniors, along with three juniors — taking at least one college course.
SCSD3 counselor and teacher Loyce Ellingrod began working at SCSD3 in 2006 and she said the occasional student took a college course. Ellingrod, who teaches a psychology class for college credit, said the number has trended up over time, especially in the past few years.
“It takes some time to build it because you have teachers who have the qualifications and that are willing to do that, and then you have to have students who want to take the more rigorous courses,” Ellingrod said. “Our students actually have come to expect having [college-level classes] as an opportunity for them.”
Betz holds a master’s degree in history and believes the advanced courses put students on even ground with high-schoolers from larger towns. She teaches between one and four concurrent classes every year, depending on enrollment and students’ schedules. She taught two last year and teaches one this year, Western Civilization.
The course entails about the same amount of work for Betz as a regular high school class. Most of the assignments are done through Google Classroom with school-issued Chromebooks. She reports students’ grades directly to the college.
Eight students enrolled in Western Civilization this year, the most Betz has ever had in a concurrent class. At a small school like Arvada-Clearmont, students already know instructors’ teaching styles because they have likely taken several previous classes from them.
“I have these students starting in seventh grade, so by the time they’re juniors and seniors, they know what to expect,” Betz said.
Betz said the best part is students coming back after graduation and thanking her for preparing them for the future.
“That’s what I always wanted to do when I started offering concurrent classes,” Betz said.
Similarly, Ball said taking a dual or concurrent class makes a student more likely to graduate college and have a strong college GPA.
“There are a bunch of reasons but the two main reasons are learning how to be a college student before you get there and having some momentum going into your freshman year,” Ball said. “You learn to be a college student before you get to college … If you look at a 60-credit associate degree or 120-credit bachelor’s degree, that’s a pretty daunting task that you’re looking at taking on. If you have six, nine, 12 concurrent and dual credits, it makes that mountain a lot less intimidating.”
SCSD3 math teacher Tim Rowe instructs seventh- through 12th-graders and for the past three years has taught one concurrent class, a trades application course focusing on real-world problems related to welding, construction and diesel mechanic.
Rowe’s colleague Carol Perry asked him about teaching the trades course — which didn’t exist up to that point — in 2016 so they could develop two tracks for students interested in receiving college credit for math: one by taking more traditional classes like precalculus and one by learning more about a trade.
Rowe has a bachelor’s degree and is working toward a master’s degree. He had a learning curve when he initially taught the concurrent course but said it has gone about how he expected. Rowe gears the daily class toward the specific students’ interests. He has focused on welding and diesel mechanics for the sole student in his course this year.
Moreover, the SCSD3 teachers think the overall number of students in concurrent classes will either remain steady or increase in future years.
“Students can talk to past graduates and see the benefit of doing it,” Ellingrod said. “Parents look at that and say, ‘Hey I’m saving the money and the college is willing to help us out with it, which is great.’ So I do think it’s going to continue as is or even grow.”
Yearly numbers may fluctuate more than normal because of the small class sizes, but the overall direction in SCSD3 appears to be an increase in college-level classes, a trend that may continue going forward.