Two school districts have received pivotal funding for "early college high schools" to prepare secondary students for the rigors of college and give them the opportunity to earn college credits before setting foot on campus.
The initiative also could be a plus for area employers to the extent it improves the pool of qualified workers locally.
Indianapolis Public Schools' Crispus Attucks Medical Magnet/Early College High School and the Metropolitan School District of Wayne Township's Early College High School each received $40,000 in development funding.
They're the 16th and 17th new small high schools funded by the Center of Excellence in Leadership and Learning at the University of Indianapolis.
The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation gave CELL $11.3 million in 2003 to improve learning at Marion County high schools.
The early college schools show promise, especially for students who aren't quite ready academically for college. Some are firstgeneration college students who wouldn't otherwise know what to expect of college.
"It allows kids to accelerate, to get some college classes under their belt, and then realize they can do the work," said David Dresslar, senior fellow at CELL.
Dresslar said the early college high school concept is of particular potential for IPS students, who tend to be disadvantaged economically and may not otherwise deem college an option.
"Unfortunately, sometimes society has low expectations for this group," said Douglass Ann Kinkade, chief of professional development at IPS.
Kinkade said the school would open this fall for grades 6-9, with grades 10-12 in place probably next year.
The school will partner with local hospitals, including the Indiana University School of Medicine, to help develop content. University and hospital personnel also will teach some courses. Talks also are under way with IUPUI and Butler University.
While early college high school programs with a medical focus are not unique, Kinkade said IPS' might be the first to extend preparatory courses as far back as sixth grade for students aspiring to a career in medicine.
"There are just so many jobs in the medical fields and in science," she added.
So far, more than 400 students have applied for enrollment in the school, which will include a student learning center open 12 hours a day to give students extra help with studies. The curriculum will include Latin and Spanish classes and a number of science offerings.
At least in theory, students will be able to earn an associate's degree while still in high school, in partnership with a local university.
Meanwhile, Wayne Township has struck a partnership with Vincennes University for its Early College High School to open by 2007 at the old Ben Davis Junior High. Credits earned could be transferred to Vincennes or other accredited institutions.
Though a number of details are still being worked out, administrators want a focus that complements the district's industry base. Logistics and aerospace are two logical industries, said Karen Gould, assistant superintendent of Wayne schools. The school's focus will "enhance our community," she said.
"This in essence becomes a high school/college environment. We will actually be teaching college courses."
As at Crispus Attucks, administrators hope to lasso students who need help and encouragement to move on to college. Some who now attend Ben Davis High School, which has an enrollment of 3,000 students, get lost in the cracks. Some just drop out.
"They're looking at this as an option for kids who want to get serious about their studies," Dresslar said.
Personalization is a common element among early college high schools.
Over in Lawrence Township, which plans to launch an early college high school this fall, students will be put through a battery of assessments of personality traits, skills and interests. There also will be a lower ratio of students to teachers than in traditional school settings.
"Kids say, 'I haven't been able to focus in a large group,'" said Kay Harmless, director of the school."
The Lawrence Early College High School for Science and Technologies will partner with Ivy Tech Community College, which also will provide "e- mentors" for students via the Internet.
"We want them to be thinking about college from the first time they enter the school," said Nancy DiLaura, executive director of Ivy Tech's Lawrence campus.
This school, like other early college programs, could reduce the cost of college, because students are able to complete a number of college-level courses before leaving high school.
"The parents say, 'This is a godsend. I didn't know how I was going to get the money [for college],'" Harmless said.
These aren't likely to be the last new small, college preparatory high schools. IPS, for example, is looking at setting up an early college school at Shortridge Middle School focused on law and government.