As a sophomore in high school, Trevor Summers lacked direction. School was more of a chore than a priority. His attitude was reflected in his poor attendance and his low grades.

Last year, however, something clicked for Summers. As a student at Klamath Union High School, he started taking college classes through the school at Klamath Community College.

At the beginning of this school year, Summers, 17, signed up for the KCC KU Career Pathways program, which offers high school students a chance to earn college credit and work toward a one year certificate in one of five selected fields.

Summers found a focus: cars.

“[The pathways program] definitely put me in the right direction,” Summers said. “After I figured out I could get good grades with the pathways and through college, there was more motivation to work hard.”

In June, Summers will be the first person in his family to graduate from high school and go on to college.

KCC-KU Career Pathways

Each afternoon, following their high school classes, 24 students are bused from KU to KCC for their college classes as part of the pathways program.

The program aims to incentivize and encourage students to find their focus in school to ensure their completion of high school as part of the Klamath Promise, which is a community-based initiative focused on helping the county reach a 100 percent graduation rate.

The program offers five areas of study for students: Emergency Response Operations First Responder, Computer Technician, Welding, Auto Diesel Technician and Media Design.

It is geared toward high school students who are more interested and engaged in education if there is an opportunity for hands-on learning, said KU Assistant Principal and program organizer Jennifer Cole.

During the 2014/15 school year, KU began offering welding classes for its students through KCC at the Oregon Institute of Technology. The same course was offered in the spring of 2015/16, while discussions and planning for the pathway program were underway. The program was finalized and offered to KU students in fall 2016.
The Superintendent of Klamath Falls City Schools Paul Hillyer was the spearhead of the program, Cole says, pushing her to come up with a variety of courses for students to take.

Eventually, Cole said she and KU Principal Charlene Herron, met with KCC’s Vice President of Academic Affairs Jamie Jennings to look at a variety of pathway options. Cole said she didn’t want to offer courses that could be offered at KU, but rather courses the school wasn’t able to provide, but KCC was.

The mix of juniors and seniors spends two periods of their seven-period days on the KCC campus. They take one class Monday, Wednesday and Friday, and another class on Tuesdays and Thursdays.

Cole said it should take students two years to graduate from KCC with a one year certificate, which could help them secure an entry level job right out of high school.

For other students, such as Summers, some choose to stay on at KCC to complete an associate’s degree, while others enroll at a four-year university, Cole said.

“Graduation is one line [for students], but there are many other lines beyond that,” Cole said. “[Students] are more likely to go on past high school if they can see the future.”

Insight into the future

Before enrolling in the pathways program, KU senior David Auld had his sights set on becoming a baker after graduation.

The ERO program at KCC completely change his outlook, he said.

“Thanks to the ERO class,” Auld said. “I would like to become a paramedic.”

At KCC this semester, Auld, 18, is enrolled in the ERO and First Aid and Beyond classes. He says he feels more prepared for the transition into college at KCC after he graduates from high school in June.

Modeled on Texas

When KCC President Roberto Gutierrez joined the college in 2012, he said he noticed a great need to improve the low graduation rates in the Klamath Falls community.

While looking for an education model that was proven to increase graduation rates, he and other local leaders, found that the Pharr-San Juan-Alamo Independent School District in Pharr, Texas, had had similar high school dropout rates, he said.

They also found that changes in the district’s education system increased graduation rates from 62 percent to 90 percent in seven years.

“We wanted to implement a model that worked, and the Texas model had shown great results,” Gutierrez said in a statement. “There was a great sense of urgency, so we began implementing parts of the Texas model we believed would be the best fit for our community.”

KCC Vice President of Academic Affairs Jamie Jennings said the Texas model has been well replicated between KCC and KU.

The high school students are integrated into KCC’s college classes with other college students, which Jennings said is a beneficial learning system.

“They can see people that are here, purposefully learning and trying to create a pathway to a career and it is a great modelling opportunity for the students to see that,” she said.

KCC works together with KU to purchase the necessary tools, clothing and equipment for the high school students’ classes. A grant from the Oregon Promise also helps pay for textbooks, Jennings said.

A teacher’s perspective

In Rebekah Dodson’s Technical Communication class there are 15 KU students to the five KCC students.

Since the beginning of the semester, Dodson says she had to completely change her teaching system as the high school students prefer hands on assignments rather than being lectured.

“I don’t think I can ever teach the same after this class,” Dodson said.

For Summers, and his love of cars, the class is perfect. His attendance and class work are now reflected by his straight A grades (minus a B in math) and his 3.5 GPA.

After his high school graduation, Summers says he will be enrolled in the diesel program at KCC and has the potential to graduate in under two years because of the extra credits he has obtained during high school.

“I had the closed minded high school view and then I got into this program and it was definitely more exciting and feels more serious,” Summers said. “It definitely feels like I can go to college and I can be successful.”