By Zoe Weiman
“Who are those little kids?”
It’s a question that COC students occasionally ask as they walk by a group of kids who look too young to be on campus taking classes. However, these students are anywhere from 13-18 years old, attend a high school tucked away in the University Center and, according to one study, are among the highest-performing students at COC.
Academy of the Canyons is formally known as a middle college high school, a public school where students are enrolled in college part time while they are high school students. Because the school is a public institution in the Hart District, tuition for COC is waived and students are only responsible for paying student fees, which usually amount to $20-$30 per semester, plus the cost of textbooks.
With 395 students, these teens make up about 0.2 percent of the COC population of over 21,000, but they don’t go unnoticed. Most AOC students have been asked how old they are by other students in their classes and they say that many COC students are aware of the high school’s existence.
A study done by COC shows that AOC students are the highest performing subgroup at COC, with 99 percent of AOC students finishing the classes they start at the college, compared to 90 percent of COC students. AOC students have an average score of 94 percent in their classes, while COC students have an average score of 75 percent. Those numbers come just from the college classes; high school classes aren’t included.
Because students can finish two years of college while they’re still in high school (they can take a maximum of 11 units every semester), AOC is a great way to save money, potentially reducing future tuition by up to two years. They also like that it gives them real college experience.
“I like the interaction with people I never would have met,” says Sabrina Tran, a senior.
Anyone from the Hart District can apply to go to AOC. After they pass a preliminary check of grades and attendance, they are entered into a
lottery that will determine the freshmen class for that year. For the 2015-2016 school year, approximately 340 students entered the lottery and 84 were admitted as freshmen.
Students who attend the school generally agree that there are fewer issues with drugs, violence and bullying than they saw at their previous schools. Many also like the family feel of the school, attributed to its small size. Nolan Dunnahoo, a senior, said it will help him “get ahead for the future.”
Teachers at AOC believe the program offers good exposure to community college coursework and better student-teacher interaction. For the 395 students, there are only 12 teachers because one-third to one-half of the students’ classes are taken at COC (upperclassmen typically have four high school classes and two to four college classes every semester).
“High schoolers learn how to be college students in an environment where they are supported,” says Doug Labus, a math teacher at AOC.
The rigor of their courses, including their high school classes, contribute to this preparation for college, though not all are happy with it. For example, the Class of 2016 began with 85 students, all freshmen in 2012. When they were juniors, in 2015, only 65 percent of students had been there since freshman year; 52 students transferred in and approximately 16 students left the program.
Reasons for leaving are mixed; some students cite increased stress and some leave to find a ‘normal’ high school experience. However, Jason Wilhelm, an AOC English teacher, believes it may be because the high school courses are too rigorous, and it’s easy for students to be left behind in the curriculum. Transferring in, as many do, is difficult as they may be missing skills that were taught to AOC students in ninth and tenth grade.
“Students who are struggling might not have their needs met,” he says.
Despite different struggles, one unifying trait of almost every student at AOC is that they are always stressed. Many of them also complain that their school and homework leaves them little time for a social life. Yes, AOC is considered more rigorous than conventional high school, but AOC students miss out on plenty of things that conventional high schools do.
There are no sports at AOC aside from mountain biking (in which they are represented by four students). Students can participate in Students Off And Running, a club where they train for the L.A. Marathon, but Friday night football games are almost a foreign concept. Extracurriculars are also limited, due to the school’s small size.
There are no formals or proms, just a themed dance in COC’s cafeteria every year, small school events on campus like spirit weeks, and a Senior Dance. While students do have the option to attend events at other high schools in the district, there is a noticeable lack of school pride.
“We’re just oak trees,” says senior Jonah Nelson. “We lack the high school experience of homecoming.”
It is true that the unofficial AOC mascot is an oak tree, but it is worth considering whether that causes the lack of school spirit, or if there is something else that makes students not want to be associated with the school.
When they were asked about it, one class of juniors said they thought it could be because AOC has a reputation as a “nerd school.” Some said it was because there was no cool spirit wear. Still others said that they know there is a stigma associated with the school, that everyone is really smart, and they don’t want people to make assumptions. Other students complain about COC professors who relax their curriculum because they think high school students can’t handle it. However, as a senior at AOC, I personally have never experienced that. In COC classes, AOC students are typically met with awe and statements like, “I wish I had done that in high school.”