High school seniors earn college degrees

Amanda Juker will still had two weeks remaining in her high school senior year when she graduated from Idaho State University on Monday.

Juker is one of nine Renaissance High School seniors who completed their associate’s degrees this year, after amassing 64 college credits while attending high school.

“It is really exciting – and kind of a weird dynamic – to think I’ll graduate from college before high school,” Juker said. “But it’s such an honor to be able to go through the program and be one of nine kids who are able to get through it and graduate before we’re out of high school even.”

Through Renaissance’s concurrent enrollment program, dozens of other Renaissance seniors also earned college credits.

Penny Andrew
Principal Penny Andrew

Other Renaissance students take the school’s International Baccalaureate track.

Principal Penny Andrew describes Renaissance as a “school choice” school within Meridian Joint School District. Students can apply if they achieve proficiency or advanced status on their ISAT standardized tests in middle school.

Renaissance originally opened to serve as the district’s International Baccalaureate school, and all of its classes are advanced or honors. After opening, Andrew and district leaders including Superintendent Linda Clark decided the IB program dovetailed nicely with concurrent enrollment.

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In order to earn an associate’s degree in high school, students must take 14 to 16 college credits per semester, complete four or five summer school classes and finish all of their high school requirements on top of that.

“This is a school without sports, and kids will say the expectation in terms of homework and schoolwork is higher than any other school they have been at,” Andrew said. “ What they tell me is they have to learn to manage their time.”

This year’s graduating class – including Juker – is the first in Renaissance’s brief history in which students were able to earn full associate’s degrees while in high school.

Andrew and Idaho State University-Meridian Health Science Center director of enrollment and student services Ali Crane said Renaissance is the only high school in Idaho with a path for students to earn associate’s degrees – though other districts are considering such plans.

“Many of these seniors are over halfway through (college) and some are just a few (credits) short of that,” Andrew said. “I am proud of them and amazed at their perseverance. It’s a lot of work.”

Crane said the students put themselves on track to succeed in college and will look very attractive to admissions officers.

“These nine students are trailblazers; it’s pretty exciting to be a part of it,” Crane said.

When Juker was in eighth grade, she and her family decided she would attend Renaissance, which opened in 2009. Juker was looking to challenge herself academically after completing honors courses throughout middle school and liked Renaissance’s college prep mission.

“I went because I wanted be a part something brand new that hadn’t been done before and something very challenging,” Juker said.

The program offers families a significant savings if they have the ability to handle the workload. Concurrent enrollment credits coast $65 in Idaho, while undergraduate courses at ISU, for instance, run $304 per credit hour.

Using those figures, an associate’s degree for Renaissance students costs $4,190, less than a fourth of the $19,456 cost for a full-time college student.

Students said the workload is intense, but they don’t feel like they’ve missed out on their high school experience. Renaissance offers a host of extracurricular activities – such as debate, Chinese classes, school plays and dances. Students can even play varsity sports for other Meridian schools based on district boundaries.

Senior Rose DiMattio was a three-sport varsity athlete, playing basketball, softball and soccer. She also earned about 10 college credits.

“You get to know yourself more,” DiMattio said. “People here are a lot closer and accepting of a lot more different varieties (of students and interests). Other high schools, not so much.”

Still, the students’ achievement does come with significant sacrifice. Senior Brittni Hudlet said the facet of everyday life that is sacrificed most is sleep. She also says students here behave a little differently than stereotypical image people associate with high school students. She pointed a to humorous social media site that asks, “How can you tell you’re a Renaissance High School student?”

Hudlet rattles off a few examples, such as the debate team functions as the jocks and Renaissance students are more likely to have their nose stuck in a calculator than a smartphone.

“You do lose sleep, but it’s not that bad,” Hudlet said. “It’s almost a pride thing. Now I joke that ‘I got 5 hours of sleep last night, I’m awesome.’”

Renaissance teacher
Teacher James LeDoux, kneeling in green, helps students in his literature class.

In order to make concurrent credit work, Renaissance’s teachers have all earned master’s degrees or higher and are certified as adjunct professors.

For example, teacher James LeDoux’s senior English class, thematic literature, counts as college English 115.

Inside his room, LeDoux posted a message that seems to fit well at Renaissance: “Your ‘I Can’ is More Important Than Your IQ.”

“It’s important to know it’s not like this school is full of brainiacs,” LeDoux said. “We have students who are more willing to do the work. There are smart kids at every school, and we have smart kids too, but they are more motivated here than in other schools.”

In addition to earning her associate’s degree, Juker made time to work at a boutique in the mall, take Chinese classes and become a leader within Renaissance’s Leo Club – a service organization affiliated with the Meridian Lions Club.

“I was overwhelmed at first, like anybody else,” Juker said. “But now that all the kinks are worked out, it was a really great thing to go through.”

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