College Now lets high schoolers grow

Maya Ronen
Megan V. Winslow/Town Crier
High school senior Maya Ronen takes her courses at Foothill College through the College Now program.

For high school senior Maya Ronen, high school wasn’t really working. She was bouncing around from private school to private school, either not connecting with her peers or feeling like the social environments were actively “toxic.” Even though she liked her teachers at one school, it didn’t make up for the social scene. So she wanted to get out, but she still wanted to get her high school diploma.

“I was looking for a way to finish high school that wasn’t high school,” Ronen said.

Ronen enrolled in the inaugural cohort of the College Now program at Foothill College. The program, co-created by Foothill, the Palo Alto Unified School District and the Mountain View Los Altos Union High School District, enables students to finish their high school coursework at the community college.

“They’ve kinda outgrown high school and didn’t want to be there for the rah-rah of high school,” said Associate Superintendent Margarita Navarro of College Now’s participants. “They were ready for another challenge.”

Most of the 29 students in this year’s group actually applied for another program, Middle College. Middle College also allows students to take courses at Foothill, but it’s a more structured program: Middle College students have two high school teachers at Foothill at all times and take courses with them as well as courses with college instructors.

Ronen applied for Middle College, thinking at least it would be something different. But when the district offered her a spot in the College Now program, she realized it was actually more in line with what she wanted.

“Seeing the demand for Middle College, it wasn’t necessarily that kids wanted the Middle College program, it was that they wanted to access the community college experience sooner,” Navarro said.

Thus, College Now was born. The program is enabled by a statewide law that established pathways for students to graduate from high school by taking community college courses. Foothill credits are free to students, and students within the program basically function like college students. They are the Mountain View Los Altos Union High School District’s responsibility, however, and they have an adviser on campus weekly.

“They’re virtually on their own, so they have to be able to manage the system on their own,” said Gary McHenry, the program’s adviser.

Students can take more classes than are required to graduate from high school, so they’re able to earn college credit, potentially reducing the number of credits they need from a two- or four-year college and saving money. Navarro said the district is planning on doubling the number of students in College Now next year.

Expanding options

One of Ronen’s favorite things about the program is that she can make her own schedule: She doesn’t have class every day, which means she can spend Wednesdays at Hidden Villa volunteering. And she has more options socially – like any college student, she can try to make friends with anyone in any of her classes. She doesn’t see the same people day in and day out.

“You can choose who you want to get to know and who you don’t, which can be great and can be terrifying,” Ronen said.

Academically, the program was an adjustment.

She struggled with calculus her first quarter, but she’s retaking it now, during her second quarter. She loves her astronomy class.

“I’d say it’s way better than high school, which isn’t to say it’s been easy,” Ronen said.

She’s currently considering what to do next year; she might attend a four-year university, she might take a gap year. Both options sound good to her.

“I’m pretty optimistic, which is way more than I could say before,” Ronen said.

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