Two new classes at Somerset High School next fall will allow SHS students to earn six credits per class from the University of Minnesota.
Somerset has become the first high school in western Wisconsin to be part of the university's College in the Schools (CIS) program. The classes will be United States history taught by Dennis Potter and calculus taught by Richard Thompson.
The only other Wisconsin school in the program is Homestead High School from the Milwaukee area.
Somerset High School Principal Chris Moore said there are a number of advantages for Somerset students and taxpayers to joining the CIS program.
The first advantage is students received six transcripted guaranteed University of Minnesota credits with successful completion of the class. Because the class is being offered through the high school, it comes at no cost to the students and their families.
There is also a lower cost to the taxpayers. Moore said the courses will cost the Somerset district about half of what credits cost through the Youth Options system that allows students to take classes at area colleges.
By offering the classes at the school, it saves the students from the cost of traveling to the colleges.
“The students can stay here, so they stay better connected to what's happening in the school,” Moore pointed out.
These classes will serve as pilot classes. Moore said if these classes are successful, the district will attempt to add more courses. Potter and Thompson said they would both like to add another class option in the future, Potter aiming toward a sociology class and Thompson a physics class.
The interest among the SHS students in signing up for the classes has been promising. Moore estimated that 20 or more students have shown interest in Potter's U.S. History course. He said 50-60 sophomores are in a position to take the class as juniors, with Moore saying a second section of the class may become necessary.
Because only seniors can take the calculus class, Moore estimated 10-12 students for the class in the first year, with increasing numbers expected in successive years.
The students in the CIS classes will receive the same textbooks, same lectures and same tests as the students taking the class at the university.
“It's the whole experience, minus the campus,” Moore said. “It's popularity in Minnesota is pretty big. You expose more students to more college courses.”
The school will work closely with the university on the project. The college professor will attend one of the high school lectures for each course. And the Somerset students will be bused to the university to attend a lecture on campus for the course they are taking.
Nine advanced classes
The addition of the CIS classes are part of the expansion of advanced offerings at the high school. There will be seven Advanced Placement (AP) courses offered to students next year. Somerset already offers AP biology and two AP English classes.
Advanced courses that will be added for next year include AP psychology, AP macroeconomics, AP microeconomics and AP art.
Somerset also offers classes that earn students credit. Business classes including Microsoft Word, spreadsheet and accounting can earn credits through WITC, as can Somerset's building construction class. Students in the family and consumer science class can earn credits through Chippewa Valley Tech.
The expanded advanced offerings set up Somerset students to get a head start on their college future, without the cost.
“If students want to have two years of college credits completed (by their high school graduation), they can do that,” Moore said.
The idea to become involved in the CIS program has been in motion for more than a year. Potter and Moore initially discussed the idea. Moore invited a U of M staff member to present the program in Somerset and the seed was planted.
Potter has been teaching AP history, which the CIS history course will replace. He sees several advantages, saying there is more flexibility in what he can teach. He said the students will get credit for their work in the class, instead of having to wait for the AP test after the course is completed to see if they earn any AP credits.
The credits from the University of Minnesota can be transferred to almost any college in the nation, where credits from smaller colleges may not transfer as readily to larger schools.
SHS did not offer calculus this year because of the conversion from the block schedule to the six-hour day.
Thompson said one of the advantages of working this closely with a college is it will do a better job of preparing students for the rigor of college courses.
“We're now setting the bar where it needs to be. There's no debate. This is a U of M calculus class,” Thompson said.