College credits

Gustine High students preparing to take Modesto Junior College courses concurrently with their high school studies include, foreground to background, Sofia Solorio, Mario Martinez, Sarah Bedford and Megan Montoya.

GUSTINE - A number of changes enacted at Gustine High awaited students at the start of the new school year - including the opportunity to earn college credits at Modesto Junior College through a newly-offered dual enrollment program.

About a dozen students will be taking MJC courses online this fall as they start to build their college transcripts while still completing their high school studies.

Ultimately, Principal Adam Cano said, he envisions students having earned as many as a dozen college credits by the time they receive their high school diploma.

Counselors Melissa Estacio and Alexa Nunes, who provide guidance to the dual-enrolled students, noted that the course selection includes required general education classes which can be transferred to any college or university the student eventually attends.

The advantages of the program, they said, are not only earning college credit tuition-free (a $34 health fee is the only charge) but also becoming familiar with the rigor of college courses and learning the expectations of a collegiate environment.

“We want to start small and make sure that they are successful before we open it up to a broader range of students,” said Nunes. “They can take as many units as they want per semester, but (to start) we are having them take only one because it is an adjustment to take those college level courses.”

The counselors said each dual-enrolled student is assigned one designated period to focus on their college work in lieu of an elective Gustine High course. The dozen students involved are grouped into two such periods.

“We do that so they can help each other. They are able to bounce ideas off one another, and can also reach out to us,” Nunes said. “We are also trying to give them some independence so they can feel what college is like. The one period a day lets them spread their wings a little bit to see what it is like to be in a college environment, but we can still support them.”

Many of the classes do not officially start until October, she added, but the Gustine students are using their periods in the interim to prepare for college studies by familiarizing themselves with the MJC network, learning how to research classes and tending to other college-related matters.

While the counselors are available to provide assistance and guidance, they said, for all practical purposes the dual-enrolled pupils are college students, responsible for their own coursework and meeting due dates.

“It is a very independent, college-level environment,” Nunes said.

The dual enrollment is not to be taken lightly, both counselors stressed, as students must have both the maturity and motivation to be successful.

“These are college transcripts,” Estacio pointed out. “If you are enrolled in a class and get past a certain date, you’re in it, and if you get a ‘D’ or an ‘F’ that’s on your transcript.”

Local educators have no control in the matter, she added.

“Their instructors won’t even talk to us (due to student confidentiality guidelines),” Estacio noted. “They are their own entity, and we cannot advocate for what happens. There are not a lot of strings we can pull for them in college.”

With that in mind, the counselors said, they will be selective in recommending dual enrollment for students.

“We have to make sure that they are prepared, and have the energy and drive to do that work in addition to their high school work,” Estacio remarked.

“The number of (dual-enrolled) students is not the main thing,” Nunes emphasized. “We don’t want 100 students to be in courses but only setting up 25 to be successful.”