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Extra credit at BHS

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For many high schoolers, the thought of turning 18 and stepping out to the college or working world constantly looms in the back of their mind; thoughts that are now moving into the forefront for seniors at Brainerd High School (BHS) as they get set to walk across the stage in their cap and gown on May 31.

Those seniors will go from stepping to leaping. But with every leap comes risk.

And for graduates looking to attend a college or university next year, those risks come in the form of financial and academic preparation.

So how ready are they? According to BHS Principal Andrea Rusk, “Tremendously ready.”

“We feel our high school looks at the whole student academically and emotionally,” said Rusk of the more than 2,000 students enrolled at BHS. “We really focus on the end result, and ultimately what do we want for our students and really prepare them for the path outside of high school, too.”

That’s where earning college credit courses during high school comes in, alleviating a little both financial and academic scares before stepping on to a college campus.

“I think our goal (at BHS) is to provide a great high school experience for kids who are high school age,” Rusk said. “But for those students who are ready and motivated, we also want to offer that college credit opportunity without leaving high school.”

Rusk said approximately 30 to 40 percent of BHS students graduate with some credit or advanced standing each year, with roughly 70 percent of students going on to attend a college or university.

And with college tuitions on the rise, every penny saved counts.

According to College Board, an average four-year university’s tuition for an in-state student costs $8,240. A full-time student who takes 30 credits in a year — 15 credits per semester — can expect to pay $274.67 for each credit. Bump that up to an average of $20,700 for out-of-state tuition at a four-year university and credit costs skyrocket to $692.33.

At BHS, Rusk said there are four different options for students and parents looking to save a buck on credit costs and prepare for the rigor of taking college courses, too.

Advanced Placement (AP)

Taken by the most students of the four options, Rusk said AP is one of the most successful college credit options at BHS, where students can earn college credit honored at nearly any college by passing the test with a 3, 4, or 5 score at the end of the year.

“This year we have over 300 students taking over 700 (AP) tests given from May 7-18,” said Rusk of the international program that earned BHS newsweek recognition as one of the nation’s top 1,000 schools for successful AP testing. “We have an outstanding history of success with those assessments, with over 70 percent of students testing (and passing) and earning college credit.”

Offered to students in grades 10-12 since 1985, BHS has 14 different AP classes: literature, language, calculus, statistics, U.S. History, human geography, Spanish, biology, chemistry, physics, American government, European history, microeconomics and psychology.

Rusk credits the amount of success to the open door policy and no requirement to enroll in an AP course.

“Students don’t have to meet a GPA requirement or apply to be in the (AP) course,” said Rusk. “We encourage students to try an AP course when they are in high school and given it’s taught by our teachers, it’s a more nurturing environment for our students than a college class off our high school campus.

“We’re seeing really great growth in our AP students and I credit our teachers because they put a great amount of time and energy in to developing these programs.”

Staying in the high school atmosphere while earning the same transferable college credit was one of the main reasons junior Arielle Rutledge enrolled in AP courses.

“Everyone that goes to CLC (with Post Secondary Enrollment Option), you don’t really see anymore,” said Rutledge, who began taking AP courses as a sophomore and enrolled in language, American government and human Geography this year. “Being in an AP class, I am still here at school and, while it’s hard at first, it gets easier and you get all of your study habits formed before you go to college.”

But for some students, getting out of high school to earn those credits is where they want to be.

Post Secondary Enrollment Options (PSEO)

AP and PSEO are the yin-yang of being in high school while earning college credit. While AP keeps students inside the halls of BHS, PSEO sets them out to the CLC campus, but with a hefty list of requirements:

• Students must be in grades 11-12.

• Overall GPA 3.0 for juniors and 2.5 for seniors

• Students are limited to two years (four semesters) of participation in the PSEO program

• A full-time PSEO student may earn only 36 college semester credits for every year with three CLC credits equally one BHS credit.

“CLC does offer us a great partner in PSEO for students who choose that route,” said Rusk, who mentioned that about 100 students between full- and part-time are enrolled in PSEO this year. “The benefit of course is college credit but it comes with some disadvantages, too.

“Some students feel disconnected and less included and some students have opted to come back after a year and decide they want to finish high school in high school.”

Rusk said that BHS stresses looking at the emotional benefits as well as the academic benefits before deciding how to earn that college credit.

JESSI PIERCE, staff writer, may be reached at 855-5859 or Follow her on Twitter at (@jessi_pierce).