The class of 2005 at Mott Middle College High School. During the 2004-2005 school year, Mott Middle College had about 360 students enrolled in
250 different college classes with no student receiving less than a 3.0 grade point average.
At-risk students in one Michigan county have the opportunity
to go from dropouts to college graduates all in one place.
Mott Middle College High School, run by the Genesee County
Intermediate School District and located on the campus of Mott Community
College, offers students the choice of earning a high school diploma and working
toward an associate’s degree simultaneously. This is made possible under the
1996 Postsecondary Enrollment Options Act.
"We fit a very unique need," says Thomas Svitkovich,
superintendent for the Genesee ISD. "There aren’t many intermediate school
districts that run high schools, much less one located on a college campus."
Mott Middle College High School was the 12th such school to
open in the nation, getting its start 15 years ago. It involves the cooperation
of 21 K-12 districts in Genesee County, the ISD and the college.
"It takes a lot of cooperation on everyone’s part to make
this work," Svitkovich said.
Individual districts must sign a release form for students
who want to attend Mott Middle College. Flint Community Schools acts as the
fiscal agent, receiving the foundation allowance for each student, and then
passing it along to the GISD, which acts as the operating agent. Flint keeps 10
percent of the foundation allowance for administrative costs, but 100 percent of
any grants or charitable contributions go directly to GISD.
"We operate the school, set policy and pay for the dual
enrollment," Svitkovich said. "Mott Community College partners with us by
providing the facility and serving on our advisory board."
"In many ways, we are part of the college," said Chery
Wagonlander, the high school’s principal. "If we order something like say,
volleyball nets, the college gets to use them, too. By the same regard, our
students get to use the college’s science labs. If we use anything consumable,
it’s billed back to us."
The bottom line is, we’re trying to help these students become productive members of society, not a burden.
When the middle college high school first began, taking
college-level courses was an option for students, but it now is mandatory.
"We had several years in a row where 100 percent of our
graduates were going on to four-year colleges," Svitkovich said. "So we
redesigned things so that now, dual enrollment is a must. Our mission is to have
them earn a high school diploma, while earning as many college credits as they
can handle, up to and including an associate’s degree."
Taking college classes while still in high school is
important for the future success of the students.
"For many of these kids, they are the first ones in their
family to ever think about going to college," Wagonlander said. "The more
college credits they take and the more success they have here, the better their
chances of succeeding at a four-year college when they leave."
"Only about 25 percent of all students who enter college end
up graduating (nationwide)," Svitkovich said. "These kids have a lot of other
issues to deal with, and we realized they need mentors and cheerleaders and
someone to make sure their homework is completed."
At the high school level, students take classes that are
considered part of a college prep curriculum. Classes include traditional
courses of study such as English, math and science, along with a heavy emphasis
on fine arts, from theater to dance to music to painting. Most students who
enter Mott Middle College are found to be "right brain dominant," which means
they tend to be intuitive, creative and abstract learners. They also excel at
hands-on, experiential forms of learning.
"Every student has an individualized, customized program,"
Wagonlander says. "There is a lot of blending in how we teach, how the guidance
works. It’s beyond seamless."
Failure is not an option in high school classes.
"If they don’t get a C or better, they take the class again,"
Wagonlander said. "We like to think of this as a high school, not a building.
There is a lot of focus on accomplishments and learning."
That strict approach translates into success at the next
level. During the 2004-2005 school year, Mott Middle College saw about 360
students take part in more than 250 different college classes, with none
receiving lower than a 3.0 grade point average.
Students come to Mott Middle College for several reasons, and
via several paths.
"Many are referred to us by their high schools, some come in
themselves and others are brought in by parents," Svitkovich said. "We have a
very thorough intake process, because those kids who have severe discipline
problems or are violent, we just don’t have the capacity to deal with that
Svitkovich said it takes a particular type of student to
thrive in the middle college high school setting.
"There has to be a certain level of self control, because
there is a great deal of freedom on a college campus," he added. "There is a
potential to be successful, but the student has to have the basic ability to
handle a fairly sophisticated curriculum."
Wagonlander said attendance is at the root of many student
"One reason they weren’t succeeding in their old schools was
because of deplorable attendance habits," she said. "We tell them, if we don’t
have you, we can’t work with you."
Some students end up returning to their original schools,
once they figure out how to be more successful and responsible. Most stay, and
one former student has even returned to teach at the high school.
Aside from taking classes at Mott Community College, some
participants can dual enroll at other colleges. The Greater Flint Education
Consortium, which consists of the Genesee ISD, 21 K-12 school districts, Flint
Powers Catholic High School, Mott, Baker College, University of Michigan at
Flint and Kettering University, provides multiple opportunities for students
countywide, not just those who attend Mott Middle College.
"We have a great working relationship," Svitkovich said.
"Although the majority of our kids take classes at Mott, we always try to look
for the right program for the student. There is a variety from which to choose."
Svitkovich said the program has hosted visits from at least a
half dozen other Michigan community colleges who may be interested in starting
similar programs. Asked why there aren’t more already up and running, Svitkovich
said that is due to the result of several factors.
"There are a lot of hurdles to cross," he said. "Facility
space is a big one. This type of program has to be done on a college campus,
because that’s a big motivator for the students."
The philosophy of various school districts also plays a part,
as well as other alternatives already are being offered.
The future of middle college high schools, however, may be
jeopardized by various legislative initiatives, including the anticipated
changes in high school graduation requirements.
"Some of the Department of Education rules and regulations
can be very restrictive," Svitkovich said. "We can’t keep a student past the age
of 20 already, and some changes being talked about might take away the ability
for students to do a fifth year. This type of program needs to be very flexible
in order to deliver the type of product we do."
Svitkovich said he hopes any further legislative changes will
take that flexibility into account.
"When you look at what dropouts cost society, it makes more
sense to pay now rather than later," he said. "For example, some don’t feel it
is appropriate to use K-12 money to pay for dual enrollment in college classes.
The bottom line is, we’re trying to help these students become productive
members of society, not a burden."