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STANFIELD, Ore. (AP) — High school graduation usually marks the beginning of a new journey, but for most Stanfield students graduating Sunday the transition from high school to college won't seem like much of a transition at all.
Thirty of the 39 seniors will graduate with at least one college class under their belt. Thanks to Eastern Promise, the regional college credit program in its third year, many students are graduating with two or three semesters' worth of college credit and experience living in college dorms during Eastern Oregon University's summer institute.
Kris Mulvihill, Eastern Promise's K-12 director, said she has seen the program transform Stanfield Secondary School.
"They are, in effect, Stanfield Community College," she said.
For students who in the past would have run through their school's entire slate of advanced courses by the end of junior year, Mulvihill said Eastern Promise allows them to continue their academic progress while still enjoying the social life and extracurricular activities of a normal high school student.
"They're going to college in their own school," she said.
At the same time, students are encouraged to get a preview of university life by staying in the dorms at Eastern Oregon University for a few weeks while taking summer institute classes.
Kirsten Wright, Stanfield Secondary's school counselor, said the culture of the school has changed in the past three years to where starting work on a college degree in high school is the norm.
"Even eighth graders will say, 'I want to get my AAOT,'" she said, referring to the Associate of Arts Oregon Transfer Degree.
Wright said during Eastern Promise's first year it was hard to fill the college courses offered on the Stanfield campus, but now "those classes are about full to capacity."
While earning college credit in high school used to be reserved for the stereotypical valedictorian types, at Stanfield not everyone taking college classes was always a straight A student.
Eddie Hernandez, a senior, said he didn't care much about his education when he started high school and he failed a few classes his first year.
"I was your typical freshman," he said.
When he saw his older sister earning college credit, however, it got him thinking about his own future. Now he is graduating on Sunday with 42 college credits on his transcript.
This year the school developed an honors diploma, which seven students will be awarded on Sunday. One of the requirements is to earn 30 college credits.
There are more than seven students who earned 30 credits, however. Kayla Smith said she has 42 college credits but her GPA fell just short of the standard needed for an honors diploma.
She said she has "always had big goals," but being able to get such a big head start on college for only $10 a credit hour through Eastern Promise has helped her feel more confident in her ability to earn a psychology degree.
Principal Bryan Johnson said the school's ability to offer college courses on campus, thanks to a partnership with Blue Mountain Community College and Eastern Oregon University, comes at a good time. Next year the state has mandated that schools must show 82 percent of their students are taking a full class load.
For schools that have been easing classroom overcrowding and teacher shortages by scheduling most of their upperclassmen with a study period or two, that's a problem. But with Eastern Promise, Johnson said there are plenty of options to keep Stanfield seniors occupied for a full seven periods a day.
Eastern Promise has changed senior year, he said, from a blow-off year of easy classes and free periods to one of serious college preparation.
"Senior year we see a lot more kids taking that extra science class and extra math class instead of an easy elective," he said.
Information from: East Oregonian, http://www.eastoregonian.info
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