High school students accelerate their learning with Early College


Early College students at Castle High School listen intently to an ECON 130 lecture by professor Briggs – Esther Higa
Early College students at Castle High School listen intently to an ECON 130 lecture by professor Briggs – Esther Higa

Everyone knows that high school and college couldn’t be more different. But what happens when the two worlds cross?

Windward Community College has partnered with Castle High School to provide high school students an accelerated learning experience through Early College.

Early College is an initiative that allows high school students to earn six or more college credits, giving them the opportunity to earn both an associate’s degree and a high school diploma by their high school graduation and to develop practices that will prepare them for their future degrees or careers.

It is available to all students under the age of 18 who have not yet graduated high school, including students from charter schools, non-Department of Education (DOE) high schools and homeschoolers.

High schools in the program must commit to providing early college courses over a three year period with the goal of increasing the number of students in the program and the number of college credits students receive by their high school graduations.

The Early College Program is part of the state’s overall goal of having 55 percent of working age adults with a college degree by 2025.

Over the next three years, Hawai‘i P-20 Partnerships for Education (a statewide collaboration between the DOE and the University of Hawai‘i), with the support of the Harold K. L. Castle Foundation and GEAR UP Hawai‘i (a federally funded program to prepare low-income high school students to succeed in postsecondary education), will invest more than $1.2 million to fund tuition and expenses and to provide technical assistance to selected high schools working with University of Hawai‘i campuses in early college courses.

“It’s kind of like a house call,” said Paul Briggs, a WCC economics professor who teaches ECON 130 at Castle High School. “We at the college go to the high school and teach the same course to the high school (students) that they would get up here.”

“Early College is better than taking courses at the college because the high school teacher, Ms. Wakukawa, sits in on our classes, and on Mondays (when they don’t have an instruction period) she holds a study hall and reminds us of our deadlines,” said Esther Higa, a Castle High School student in the program.

Early College is similar to the statewide Running Start program that provides academically qualified juniors and seniors at DOE schools the opportunity to enroll in college classes through the University of Hawai‘i system as part of their high school coursework.

Through Running Start, students pay full tuition, attend classes at WCC (or other UH campuses) and earn both high school and college credits for all the college courses they successfully pass.

However, in Early College, students pay $50 per course, are taught by WCC faculty at the high schools, and only earn college credits for the courses they successfully pass. Any high school credits earned are determined by the student’s high school or an accrediting agent.

“I like Early College because the program is cheap and costs only $50,” Higa said. “It’s also easier than Running Start because I don’t have to go anywhere. But if you do both programs, it’s a bit harder.”

Early College also differs from the Advanced Placement (AP) curriculum, which is administered by The College Board and consists of standardized high school courses in various subjects that are rough equivalents to undergraduate college courses.

In that system, students are evaluated through subject AP exams and can earn college credits as determined by the colleges at which they eventually matriculate.

“I think Early College is a great program,” said Regina Yoshimori, a parent of an Early College student. “It’s surely a better way to earn college credits than taking an AP class. And it’s a good prep for when she has to take a full load of classes next year.”

Faculty participating in the Early College Program say they expect the same level of classroom participation and quality of work from their high school students. That includes meeting deadlines, being prepared for class, asking questions, conducting themselves as responsible adults and seeking help when needed.

“I treat my students the exact same way I treat my students at WCC,” Briggs said. “With the high school students, you don’t get quite the drama of different things happening to them. At WCC, I’ve got students with sleep apnea, folks who are mothers and have to take time off for their kids, those who have to deal with court issues and all kinds of issues. But at Castle, all of that seems to disappear. The high school kids are always there, and I usually get 95 to 100 percent attendance every single day.”


by Deborah Higa, Ka ‘Ohana Editor in Chief