New Plymouth ramps up advanced opportunities for students

NEW PLYMOUTH — Leaders of the New Plymouth School District are making a big push for students to earn college credits before graduation.

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New Plymouth seniors Brianna Killion and Hannah LaHaie are on track to earn an associate’s degree while attending high school.

During a press conference Wednesday with Lt. Gov. Brad Little and local Republican Rep. Ryan Kerby, Principal Clete Edmundson and Superintendent Kevin Barker unveiled the district’s revamped advanced opportunities program.

Thanks to new state laws and partnerships with the College of Western Idaho and Idaho Digital Learning Academy, students can now earn an associate’s degree from New Plymouth High School without leaving the building.

The school offers 21 dual credit classes. If a student took them all, he or she would earn 75 credits — more than the 60 credits necessary to earn an associate’s degree.

Because 90 percent of the school’s full-time staff is dual credit certified through CWI, the program is seamless, Edmunson said.

And there are three other courses offered digitally through IDLA to supplement the courses local teachers are certified in.

On top of that, the district promotes offering high school courses to middle school students, giving them a head start.

“A lot of kids were getting out of high school and not being challenged, so we felt like we really needed to push forward hard on dual credits,” said Kerby.

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Lt. Gov. Brad Little (standing) is joined by Principal Clete Edmunson, Superintendent Kevin Barker and Rep. Ryan Kerby.

Kerby is New Plymouth’s former superintendent, and he has backed advanced opportunities legislation and sponsored a new scholarship law since being elected to the Legislature two years ago.

Seniors Hannah LaHaie and Brianna Killion are on track to earn their associate’s degrees when they graduate high school next year. They say the advanced course load is helping save their families thousands of dollars on college. And it’s giving them a leg up on their peers.

“It’s definitely the financial gain,” Killion said, adding the course works gives her a jumpstart as she continues her education in hopes of becoming an anesthesiologist.

LaHaie’s father, Ron, said the programs make education more accessible to Idaho families.

“It’s a kick-start for college — those are two years (of school) already paid for right there,” he said.

Because the advanced course loads are offered at New Plymouth through their normal teachers, LaHaie and Killion are able to lead more traditional high school lives.

Both play three sports — volleyball, track and basketball, and said they are still able to socialize with their friends.

Brittany Verigan, who graduated from New Plymouth in 2015, was able to earn 54 credits while still in high school and eliminate the need to take many of her general education courses at Oregon Institute of Technology.

“As soon as I walked in the door as a freshman, the counselors were talking to me about dual credit opportunities and what classes were available,” said Verigan, who is applying to get into nursing school.

“The biggest thing to remember is college is expensive,” Brittany continued. “The more you can get ahead and the more you get done in high school, the faster you will get that degree and enter the workforce.”

During the 2016 legislative session, Idaho lawmakers consolidated existing advanced opportunities laws into a single program. In doing so, they clarified financial incentives for students and families, offering up to $4,125 in state funding to all students for dual credit courses, professional-technical exams and overload courses.

If students pair the advanced opportunities program with Kerby’s scholarship law, it is possible for many students who earn college credits while still attending high school to go on to earn a bachelor’s degree for free if they also earn a matching industry scholarship and attend a college in Idaho.

Families with students attending New Plymouth High School may call the school at 278-5311 to sign up for the programs and begin accessing state funds for dual credits. Families from other districts should check with the school counselor or office to see about local options.