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Undercurrents: Education Opens Another Path to Higher Learning

A regular Source column, Undercurrents explores issues, ideas and events developing beneath the surface in the Virgin Islands community.

Every school day D’Shanee’ Blake and Ja’Shonique Greenway go to Ivanna Eudora Kean High School and dutifully attend classes during the first two period. At lunch time, they leave campus and catch a Safari bus. Three of their fellow seniors slip out with them.

They are not skipping class.

Rather, they are a part of a growing number of high school students in the territory who are taking advantage of a dual credit program, a partnership between the University of the Virgin Islands and the Department of Education.

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Following a nationwide trend, the V.I. government appropriated $50,000 in 2014 to establish an educational program through which select 11th and 12th graders can get a taste of college life, a head start on a college degree, and save a little tuition money all at the same time that they fulfill course credit requirements for a high school diploma.

As the term implies, students taking a dual credit class earn both high school and college credit for the same course of study.

It is not the same as a college Early Admissions program. Nor is it the same as an Advanced Placement (AP) class, which typically is more rigorous than the normal high school class and which is designed to prepare students to do well on entrance tests that allow them to skip one or more required college courses.

In many U.S. jurisdictions, dual credit courses are taught in the high school by specially qualifying teachers.

In the Virgin Islands, students travel to the university where they attend classes taught by a UVI professor and filled primarily with traditional college students.

There were just 11 dual-credit V.I. students when the program started in the spring semester of 2015, according to Kimarie Engerman, the coordinator of the project, an associate professor and provost fellow at UVI’s College of Liberal Arts and Social Sciences. Currently 22 high school students are participating.

Greenaway said she applied for the program because she thought the experience would prepare her for going away to college. She took two UVI courses in the first semester of her senior year – general psychology and interpersonal communications skills – and is taking two now – painting and introduction to business.

Blake took the same communication course in her first semester as well as financial accounting. This semester she’s taking only one dual-credit course, introduction to business, so she has time for basketball.

She doesn’t believe the UVI courses are academically more difficult than her other classes, but says they are “very different” because they require that a student be more independent and self-reliant.

“You have to be more responsible, basically,” she explained.

Students in the program are monitored and mentored. There is a Dual Credit Committee comprised of school principals, counselors and other Education administrators as well as several UVI representatives, including the Center for Student Success, Engerman said. The center works closely with participants and provides tutoring, counseling, access to computers, or whatever may be needed to ensure success.

“We check in with the students and the professors and if we see problems, we help,” she said. “We also reach out to the high school counselors.”

Kean counselor Tiana Wilson-Matthew is highly supportive of the program and says it’s beneficial for the five seniors taking part this year.

“When they first started, they were nervous,” she said, but the adjustment was relatively quick and painless. “The students really enjoy it. They’re learning a lot … and they have sold it to the other students here too.”

The original intent was that participants would attend UVI for classes outside of the regular school day. But because of travel constraints, both Kean and St. Croix Central High School allow students to attend UVI during the regular school day.

In fact, Matthew said, Kean even sponsors the cost of the Safari travel for its students.

“The administration here is extremely supportive of this program,” she said.

Education pays for tuition and books for dual credit courses at UVI, although there may be some fees the student has to pay, depending on the circumstances.

UVI credits are generally transferable to other institutions, though there may be exceptions. Greenaway has already been accepted at Fairleigh Dickinson University in New Jersey and confirmed that it will accept her UVI credits. Blake is planning to spend her first year at UVI and hasn’t decided where she’ll go after that, but has looked at several schools that will accept her UVI credits.

Technically, the dual credit program is open to all high schools in the territory, not just public schools.

“We also reached out to private schools,” Engerman said. But there was little interest, possibly because of some of the restrictions on the program. For instance, UVI can provide only a limited number of courses for dual credit.

A brochure for the 2017 spring semester lists a number of offerings. In addition to the courses already cited, there are classes on basic drawing, introduction to criminal justice, business software applications, introduction to sociology, functional elementary Spanish, elementary science courses, and a science course on the natural world: the Caribbean.

Eligibility for the program is based largely on academic success but also on recommendations from school principals and counselors regarding maturity and readiness. A student must have at least a B average in high school and have scored well on national college readiness tests. On the SAT that means a math score of at least 520 and a critical reading/writing score of 560 or above. On the ACT, the minimum math score is 20 and the minimum English score is 21. Once selected, a student must maintain at least a C in the UVI courses to remain in the program.

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