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Chemistry professor Colby Heideman guides students through using lab equipment at EOU.
Nov. 5, 2018 LA GRANDE, Ore. – Sponsored dual-credit programs across the state encourage high school students to gain college credit through local universities and community colleges. But only one program has Colby Heideman.
He teaches chemistry at Eastern Oregon University and works with about 15 high school teachers to engage rural students with the resources and opportunities of higher education.
Eastern Promise, which reached nearly 900 high school students last year, was among the first sponsored dual-credit programs to gain approval through a new statewide process. Each year, the Oversight Committee for High School Based College Credit Partnerships will review a slate of programs to ensure they meet educational standards.
The committee found that Eastern Promise, “is intentional and specific about the credits it offers to students. Credits are both meaningful and purposeful, and are backed with advising support.” It aims to enhance opportunities for regional high school students and promote a college-going culture in rural Oregon.
In his five years with the program, Heideman has developed numerous working relationships as head of a Professional Learning Community (PLC) that links him with a cohort of high school teachers that share his field of study. They hail from rural areas throughout Eastern Oregon, but sometimes represent schools in the Portland metro area or Washington state.
He provides direct support and guidance for high school teachers, including tailored curriculum options that meet the required standards for college coursework. Dean of the Colleges of Business and Education Dan Mielke said PLCs enable high school teachers and college faculty to establish meaningful instruction and assessment for each class. The connections between teachers and professors also open doors for creative problem-solving.
“High schools don’t always have the same resources that we do here [at EOU],” Heideman said. “If they don’t have the lab equipment, we come up with solutions — like a replacement lab — to provide a similar experience that achieves the same things.”
In some cases, high school students visit EOU to conduct experiments in a real university setting. Heideman said a class from Boardman is visiting campus for a spectroscopy lab to investigate how light and matter interact.
“We’re trying to do that kind of thing more frequently, but it’s usually a couple of times a year,” he said. “It’s a challenge with how geographically spread out Eastern Promise is.”
Despite their wide dispersal, high school teachers in Heideman’s PLC benefit from a quarterly meeting, where they can exchange lesson ideas, review registration processes, and discuss shared challenges or triumphs.
“It’s one of the ways we can be an educational hub for the entire region,” Heideman said. “Eastern Promise provides college level educational opportunities to students in rural communities where often those opportunities are lacking.”
Heideman said Eastern Promise pushes students to prepare for college, and equips them for success down the road. Last year, more than 200 EOU students had completed Eastern Promise credits while in high school.
“Students that come in with a solid background really increase their potential for success,” Heideman said. “It’s very powerful when students get opportunities to interact with the university in any way — especially in a lab setting or when they get to interact with faculty. Plus, it showcases how strong the programs are here.”
Education Northwest research shows that students who participated in dual credit programs are also more likely to stick with college. The credits they earn count toward later degree requirements, and introduce students to the rigor of college courses.
“High school students who receive accelerated learning credit through these courses need to be recognized as achieving the same level of knowledge and skills that our regular EOU students, taking classes here on campus or online, achieve,” Mielke said.
Eastern Promise revolves around EOU’s partnership with the InterMountain Education Service District and Blue Mountain and Treasure Valley community colleges.
Commitment to this partnership is the first of Eastern Promise’s Five Pillars, and PLCs are highlighted in the second. The program also focuses on building a college-going culture, initiating a college credit career class in high schools, and expanding the range of students engaged in early college credit by reaching at-risk, underserved and underrepresented populations.
This final pillar was recognized by state evaluators for addressing equity in dual credit programs, noting that, “The program demonstrates best practices in equity in their focus on underrepresented student populations. There is also a core focus on educator equity through Oregon Teacher Pathways.”
So even though it has a lot in common with every other dual credit program out there, Eastern Promise’s particular pledge to serve underrepresented students sets an example for similar programs throughout the state.
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