CBC academy to offer new way to work on diploma

PASCO -- Tri-City students who dropped out of high school or didn't get enough credits for graduation will have a new option to get their high school diplomas starting early next year.

Columbia Basin College in Pasco is opening a high school academy Feb. 1.

The academy will give 16- to 21-year-olds a chance to get a high school degree outside of their former school districts, said Curt Freed, vice president for instruction at the college.

The Richland and Kennewick school districts are set up to send students to the new academy. Pasco school officials still are negotiating with CBC and haven't made a decision on sending students there, said district spokeswoman Leslee Caul.

The academy will offer high school classes on the CBC campus, said Leonor De Maldonado, who was just hired by CBC as director of the academy.

De Maldonado, a 30-year classroom veteran, most recently was the assistant superintendent of the Wahluke School District.

Giving slightly older students a chance to finish high school on a college campus may make it easier for them to return to the classroom, Freed said.

An 18-year-old who dropped out two years ago might be too embarrassed to return to his neighborhood school for another run at a diploma, for example.

Even students who stayed in school, but didn't have enough credits to graduate on time, might be reluctant to go back to classes with kids who used to be a grade below them.

"It's a pride thing," said Ron Williamson, Kennewick's assistant superintendent of secondary education. "They don't want to admit to their (peers), 'Hey, I didn't graduate.' "

Going to a college campus, where 18-year-olds are the norm, will allow students to save face, while possibly motivating them to continue with college classes after getting their diplomas, Freed said.

And they will be treated as young adults on the college campus, De Maldonado said. Their classes also will be more accelerated than they are in district schools, she said.

The demand for the academy is there.

About 25 seniors who didn't graduate last year are not enrolled in school in Kennewick -- or anywhere else, as far as officials could determine -- this year, Williamson said.

He sent their names and contact information to the nonprofit Fast Forward, which works to get dropped-out students back in school. The group can present the new academy as an option now.

And about 20 seniors who started this school year in Kennewick now are no longer enrolled, Williamson said.

Officials still are figuring out if those students moved somewhere else, but they likely will be referred to Fast Forward -- and possibly the academy.

Once all districts are on board, CBC expects to have about 200 students enrolled in the academy, Freed said.

Teaching them will not be paid by state money designated for CBC's college students.

Instead, the per-student allotment paid by the state to districts will follow the students to CBC.

The college is in the process of hiring two full-time instructors and some part-time faculty. The part-time teachers could be from the ranks of current part-time college instructors, as long as they are certified to teach high school, Freed said.

The college will wait to see which credits the students are lacking before it decides on class offerings, De Maldonado said. But those most likely will include the core subjects of English, math and social studies, she said.

Kennewick students who want to get their diploma at the academy can call Williamson at 222-7733. In Richland, students can call Dan Chubb at 967-6450.