Extra credit

DATE: Monday, November 14, 2016

For the first time, HCC is running a for-credit class at Holyoke High School.

HCC adjunct Santa Garcia teaches a class at Holyoke High School.


It both is and isn't a high school class. Students doing college-level work in a high school classroom. A college class with a high school atmosphere.

The teacher, Santa Garcia, a Holyoke Community College adjunct faculty member, was at the blackboard in front of 20 high school juniors and seniors on a recent Monday afternoon, reviewing present progressive tenses in an intermediate Spanish class.  

She wanted them to transforme según el modelo (change the mode of speech) for a list of phrases.   

El tren sale de la estación. (The train leaves the station.)  

El tren está saliendo de la estación. (The train is leaving the station.)  

They later moved on to a reading comprehension exercise, working on a passage titled La bienvenida (The welcome).  

By the end of the semester, according to the course description, students should be able to give and understand directions, express beliefs and opinions about issues, and write descriptive and cohesive essays, and more.  The class ­­— 50 minutes, three times a week — represents the first time HCC has run a for-credit class at Holyoke High School, adding another element to HCC's growing dual enrollment program by bringing college to the students in addition to the other way around.  

"It's a great way to expand and strengthen the community part of being a community college," said Monica Tórregrosa, professor of Spanish and Foreign Languages coordinator. "It's a natural extension of our mission. We hope they'll like the course and that they might want to take more advanced foreign language classes at HCC."  

Dual enrollment students are enrolled both in high school and at HCC. Typically, they take classes on campus, or on line, for which they receive both high school and college credit.  Research shows that dual enrolled students are more likely to finish high school and continue on to college.  

Last spring, HCC was one of only three colleges in Massachusetts — and 44 nationwide — selected by the U.S. Dept. of Education for a pilot program that for the first time allows dual-enrolled high school students taking college-credit courses to access federal Pell Grants. 

While dual enrollment numbers overall have dramatically increased in recent years at HCC, the number of students from Holyoke High School had dropped, said Jenilee Cochran, HCC admissions counselor and dual enrollment coordinator.  

"This is one of the ways of expanding it," she said.

Offering the class at the high school frees students from concerns about transportation to campus or missing after-school activities.  

A year ago, only two students from Holyoke High School were dual enrolled at HCC. This fall there are 61, plus another 14 students from Holyoke's Dean Technical High School.

Serving a different population - ­students who have dropped out or are at risk of dropping out — HCC's Gateway to College program has also seen a steep increase in students from Holyoke.     

A new cohort of Gateway students that started in October accounts for a doubling in the number of students in the program from 45 to 97, most of those from Holyoke (48).  

A total of 242 high school students are dual enrolled at HCC this fall. That is up from 67 just three years ago. Almost the entire increase is the result of new relationships HCC has formed with area high schools, such as Chicopee Comprehensive High School, the Paulo Freire Social Justice Charter School in Holyoke, and now Holyoke public schools.  

The agreement with Holyoke resulted from a conversation last year between William F. Messner, HCC's now-retired president, and Stephen K. Zrike, the state-appointed receiver charged with turning the city's public schools around.

Zrike said dual enrollment gives students early exposure to college material and brings a higher level of expectation.

"We believe it will have an impact on graduation rates, dropout rates, increased college admission and other metrics," he said. "Receivership or not, it provides for a better experience in high school."

Early in the semester, Garcia said, she had to make some adjustments in the curriculum because teaching and learning is different in high school. But now, she said, her students are mostly working like they would in a college class on campus. 

Some of the students in the class were already Spanish speakers, such as Kiara DeJesus. On the other hand, Jasmin Rodriguez does not. The two seniors are getting different benefits from the class, they said.

"It's improving my Spanish," DeJesus said. "I'm learning the proper way to say things instead of using slang."  

She said she's thinking of doing either two years at HCC and transferring to Westfield State University or going straight to Westfield, where she would like to major in criminal justice, with the goal of becoming an FBI agent.  

Rodriguez started taking classes at HCC last spring, with courses including biology, health, and sociology. She hopes to become an anesthesiologist; as one of five children in her family, she likes dual enrollment because it allows her to get through her college coursework more quickly.  

The class, Spanish 201 in the HCC course catalog, replaced the high school's Spanish 4 class, which had been under-enrolled and would likely have been cancelled if HCC had not stepped in, said Anna Rigali, the high school's college and career readiness coordinator. The class will go on transcripts as HCC Spanish. Students who successfully complete the course will receive three college credits along with credit toward their high school diplomas.

"For many of these students, I don't know if they would have applied to take a class at the college," Rigali said. "I hope it helps students see themselves as college potential, college material."  

PHOTOS by CHRIS YURKO: (Left) HCC adjunct professor Santa Garcia hands out papers in a college-level Spanish class she is teaching at Holyoke High School. (Right) Ernice Colon and Jasmin Rodriguez, both 17, confer on an assignment in a college-level Spanish class HCC is running at Holyoke High School.