One of ResponsiveEd’s goals is to provide different innovative options through our school brands. Even within the iSchool High and Premier High Schools, the different campuses can look very different. While the iSchool in Lewisville focuses on STEM and the iSchool in Hickory Creek focuses on the creative arts, the iSchools in Montgomery and University Park are early college. We visited with Robert Riggs, Early College High School Director in The Woodlands to answer some questions about iSchool.
Q. What are iSchool High at University Park and iSchool High at Montgomery?A. iSchool High of Montgomery and University Park are located on Lone Star College campuses in the Houston area. They are officially designated early college high schools. In the state of Texas there are a little over 100 early college high schools.
Q. What does it mean to be an early college high school?
A. It means students have the opportunity to start college as early as their freshman year of high school. The premises is if we can get a student in the door as early as 14, they can graduate with not just a high school diploma, but also an Associate degree. Our goal is to have 300 students taking college classes between the two high schools.
Q. What is iSchool High’s history?
A. Four years ago ResponsiveEd partnered with Lone Star College to run The University Park campus and then set up the Woodlands campus the following year. The Lone Star system currently has seven early college programs, but our iSchools have the additional benefit of being located on the Lone Star College campuses. Our students are literally steps away from their college classes. Our students have full access to what is available to any and all of the college students.
Q. How does the high school aspect of the program work?
A. In terms of high school classwork, we offer a mastery based learning system. Our students work in an independent student-centered environment. There is no direct teach with a teacher lecturing, but if a student needs a teacher’s assistance then they seek the help of our certified subject specialists. However, our teachers are more a “guide on the side,” they are not so much teaching but guiding. Once a student completes a knowledge unit, he or she has to go through an oral defense. Then they have to take the knowledge unit test and score a 90% or higher, if they don’t pass with a 90% or higher they have to go back and study, give an oral defense and retake the test. I believe the mastery-based form of learning ensures that the students actually know the material and best prepares them for collegiate studies.
Q. What must a student do to take college classes?
A. In order to take college credits, students must pass the Texas Success Initiative (TSI) college entrance exam. We do our best to prepare our students for the tests at both campus by offering TSI prep workshops in both the fall and spring semester. We want our students to have every opportunity to take college courses. It is a high risk, high rewarded environment. Students must be dedicated and committed to their education.
Q. What does an early college high school entail? What does a day in the life of a student look like?
A. A student’s schedule varies with the student. They all come to iSchool for the normal hours, but if they have a 9 a.m. college class, they sign out and then go to the class and have about 15 minutes to get back to the school after class. When they are not in the college classes they are in their homeroom working on their knowledge units and homework. In terms of how many college hours a student can take, it is a building block process where they slowly are allowed to take more hours. Typically older students take 12-15 hours because they have demonstrated they can handle the work load.
Q. With so many classes to take, how do students balance both high school and college classes?
A. Being an early college high school, our students have the opportunity to earn up to 60 college credits. In terms of overlapping classes, if a student takes US history at Lone Star, it will replace the US history he would take as Junior in high school. This can free up several high school credits and enable students to take more college classes. Furthermore, despite the high school classes being mastery-based, it is not a self-pacing program. We have high expectations of how many units students need to pass each week. However, this does not mean students are limited in how quickly they can complete their high school classes. If students put in the extra work and pass their high school classes at a faster pace, they can graduate early. We are very aggressive in that approach because our job is to put kids in college. If a student can maintain our standards and our pace the chances are they will do very well in college. We believe we are a great step in terms of developing study skills, time-management, organizational skills, and the philosophy of student ownership.
Q. Why have students chosen the early-college iSchool High program?
A. iSchool High is unique in that it has academic flexibility and personalized learning. Students who are capable of maintaining an accelerated pace are not held back by a class. Furthermore, our students can receive college credit free of charge, graduating from high school with up to an associate’s degree. This means they will also have the opportunity to experience college and decide what they want to study before they graduate from high school. Our schools are for very strong, independent, aggressive, academic oriented students who have strong college and career aspirations.