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Oakland County Colleges Strategize Budget

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Uploaded on Feb 29, 2012

By RUTH FREEMAN
Special to The Oakland Press

There is a public school high school in Farmington Hills sitting on a large, wooded campus, whose students affectionately tease staff and are eager to share their school spirit. All 156 students complete courses such as American Literature, Biology and Algebra.

They go to school dances and join clubs.

They will also graduate with an associate degree and/or at least 30 transferable college credits from Oakland Community College.

The Oakland Early College, on the Orchard Ridge campus of OCC at I-696 and Orchard Lake Road, is a five-year "hybrid" high school where students enroll in college courses while they earn their high school diplomas.

Students can take any class at the college, at any of its five campuses spread around the county.

Ronna Bordoley, who teaches history, economics and a class for graduating students called 13th seminar, called the school a well-kept secret, but said it wasn't for everyone.

"The biggest thing about the kids who come here is they have to know how to juggle a lot of balls in the air," she added.

Many of the teachers agreed that time was an issue for everybody. College classes require a big commitment from students, and teachers devote time to tutoring outside of class.

"It's very personal. We wear a number of different hats," said Bordoley.

They don't have lockers. They use OCC classrooms and labs, and the student union for a cafeteria. Continued...


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The school includes grades 10 to 13. Instead of graduating after their senior year of high school, OEC students stay for an extra year.

In addition to classes at OCC, they take the 13th seminar, where they learn about the college application process and financial aid. It's an opportunity for students to take prerequisite courses and pursue any of their interests.

They also intern or volunteer at an organization, such as the American Red Cross, to gain experience.

Newman compared it to freshman year of college at a four-year university.

"It's that whole year of finding who you are," she said.

According to OEC counselor Gayle Sturt, 42 of the 46 students graduating this year are going to college. The area outside her office is often buzzing with students, stopping to say hello or use the microwave.

The atmosphere is relaxed and cheerful. Schedules are flexible, and since there are few requirements for when they must take high school courses, many include a mix of ages.

English teacher Becca Chan said that because the school is so small, teachers are able to collaborate with each other, to help each student figure out their individual path.

Most classes have about 20 kids, or approximately two-thirds of a regular public high school class, according to Jennifer Newman, head of school.

Though it is a public school, enrollment is capped at 180, and students do have to apply. But they accept most of those who want to attend. Continued...


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Applicants meet with students, faculty and administrators, who look to see if they have the right maturity and motivation for the program. If accepted, they are officially part of the West Bloomfield School District.

"They have to be personally motivated," said science and 13th seminar teacher Lisa Maddalena. "Coursework is rigorous."

Open only to students from Oakland County, there is no bussing, but students come from all over - riding the SMART bus, carpooling, and driven by parents.

With a nearly even split between white and African American, and male and female students, there is a sense of community. Students say that everyone gets along.

And, it's free. The state gives money to schools for each full-time student, which the Oakland Early College uses to cover tuition and textbooks at OCC.

Students do well in their college courses, and participate in the groups and events on campus. They passed 94 percent of their college classes in the winter 2010 semester.

Kiara Adams, who is graduating this spring with a scholarship to the University of Detroit-Mercy and is going to pursue nursing, said that they get to know OCC students and instructors. She added that she has a 3.5 GPA at OCC and is on the Dean's List.

Students in Kyle Heffelbower's physics class said the atmosphere at school was peaceful, calm and welcoming. One dark-haired girl watching Heffelbower's enthusiastic explanation of how reaches Earth from the sun, said she was overwhelmed by the love and caring at the school.

"One of our biggest goals," said Maddalena, "was to create productive citizens."

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