Not your average summer school

<p>Skylar Prewitt, left, and Kain Garcia test their choreography skills during a stage combat class at EOU.</p>

On a sunny summer afternoon, one group of Hermiston High School students was inside Eastern Oregon University’s Loso Hall, listening to an instructor and taking notes for a college course.

After a few moments of silence, the teens continued working on their final project: choreographing a sword fight between the musketeers and the cardinal’s guard.

The class — fundamentals of stage combat — is one of six options high school students could take during EOU’s 2011 Summer Institute, a program designed to give high school students three weeks of university life during the summer.

Other options this session include ceramics, exploratory prose writing, elements of music, U.S. history, fitness and African drumming. Students who participated in the first session — which ran June 20-July 8 — could take classes in business, literature, scientific methods, communications, acting, humanities and public speaking.

During each three-week session, students stay in the residence halls on campus and earn college credits at a reduced rate. This year, many of the Hermiston students were able to receive scholarships to attend the camp through a “College Access Challenge” grant.

“We applied for this grant specifically for the Summer Institute,” Liz Marvin, College Bound coordinator for Hermiston High School, said. “This is a great program because the students realize they are able to do the college work, that college isn’t as hard as they think it is. They’re more likely to go to college after they graduate.”

Students could earn up to 13 credits in the first session and nine credits during the second session.

In addition to stage combat, HHS senior-to-be Kain Garcia also took prose writing and fitness, a full class load of nine credits in three weeks.

“At first I was pretty hesitant because it is a lot of work and I could have just stayed home over the summer,”  Garcia said. “I made up my mind to do this, and I’ve enjoyed it. I’m glad I came.”

Garcia said he plans to go to college after graduation, but he hasn’t settled on a school or a program of study. Participating in the Summer Institute, however, gave him confidence that he can go to college.

“I know what it’s going to be like. You have homework, but you can also have fun,” he said. “We have some nights that we go out and play soccer after dark. We have that freedom as long as we’re smart about it.”

That freedom poses both a relief and a challenge for students such as Garcia, who must balance social activities with completing course work.

“You’re on your own here a lot more than at home. You learn to be more independent,” he said. “You wake up, go to class on your own. You have a lot of down-time, so there’s a lot of time management. You have a limited amount of time, but you have homework to do.”

Garcia’s sword-fight partner, junior-to-be Skylar Prewitt, agreed.

“It’s a good experience, but it is very time-consuming,” she said. “The classes are better than I thought they would be, and it’s not classes back to back (like in high school). You have time in between classes to do homework or have fun, play volleyball.”

Prewitt said she participated in the institute in order to complete general education requirements before she graduates.

“It puts me one step closer to a career,” she said.

Some students, such as Francisco Torres, participated in both sessions, completing six college courses before entering 12th grade.

“I thought it was going to be really hard at first, but the professors help a lot,” Torres sad. “The homework is hard, but it’s worth it for the college credit.”

Of all his classes, Torres said U.S. history has been the hardest because each class period is more than three hours long — it’s a 10-week class condensed into three weeks — and requires substantial homework.

“Every time I get out of class, I go to my room, sit down and do a bunch of reading,” he said.

But with the work completed now, that makes one less class Torres has to take after graduation. Torres said he plans to attend BMCC to earn a general education degree before transfering to a four-year university. He would encourage other high school students to take advantage of the Summer Institute.

“It’s only once a year, and if you try hard, you’ll definitely pass,” he said. “After class, if you have a break, make use of it. You can get your homework done and then the rest of your time is free. We go to the pool, the lakes, the movie theater. It’s a lot of fun.”

Although the College Access grant covered only student tuition this year, Marvin said she will continue to encourage students to attend the Summer Institute.

“They get a little bit of the college experience, and they realize they can do it,” she said. “They just have to work hard.”

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