Opportunity Knocks at Mission
by Diane Andrews, Santa Clara Weekly
'Santa Clara’s new non-traditional high school puts students on the fast-track to graduate in three years or less with a high school diploma in one hand and an AA degree from Mission College in the other hand.
Mission Early College High School (MECHS), launched in the 2017- 2018 academic year, is an innovative partnership between Santa Clara Unified School District (SCUSD) and West Valley-Mission Community College District.
MECHS is embedded in the Mission College campus in Santa Clara. Students in grades 10 through 12 take required high school classes on campus in the morning and college classes in the afternoon or evening. Students from the three grade levels intermingle in elective classes, clubs and social activities.
Fees for Mission College are waived for MECHS students, who can take up to 15 college units per term. Certain college classes simultaneously satisfy the requirements of high school graduation and an AA degree.
SCUSD pays for books. Students get free transportation passes. A $20 health services fee is all that students pay.
“It’s an excellent opportunity, and I just wish more families knew about it,” said MECHS Principal Viola Smith. “It’s great for anybody interested in getting a head start on college, especially students who would be the first in their families to go to college.”
MECHS is part of SCUSD’s ongoing efforts to facilitate a greater participation of at-risk, low income and students of color in college-level courses.
Current base-line enrollment for MECHS is 120 students, with plans to increase enrollment to 190. Admission, which is selective, is limited to SCUSD students.
MECHS has a small-school atmosphere and a low teacher-to-student ratio in high school classes taught by SCUSD teachers. College classes are taught by Mission College instructors.
Smith states that MECHS provides a rigorous, honors-level program that requires students to be motivated, independent and self-directed. Strong student support programs are in place, including free tutoring.
“Our goal is to give kids this opportunity and when they do come, support them with their goals,” said Smith.
MECHS’s first graduating class in 2018 had 22 seniors. Five graduated with both a high school diploma and an AA degree. The others earned their high school diplomas and between 35 to 60 college units, giving them a jump start to complete their AA degree or enter a four-year college. Thirty-one students graduated in spring of 2019.
“The Early College High School model provides a home for students to not simply complete their education, but to also thrive,” said Mission College President Daniel Peck. “Students are able to pursue their interests and engage in experiences simply not available in a traditional high school model.
“Moreover, due to the way they are exposed to the collegiate model, these students are better prepared and motivated to continue in college beyond their high school experience.”