Vallivue High gets kids prepared

Vallivue High School students will earn hundreds of college credits, because of investments focused on increasing opportunities for students who live in poverty and for those kids who can get caught in the middle.

Just five years ago, few students earned college credits at Vallivue. This year, students will take 454 Advanced Placement exams. (A passing grade on an AP exam can earn a student college credits.)

UnknownThe huge increase in college prep work comes from a change of priorities.

“We’re making sure that students are college-ready; if they aren’t college-ready, we aren’t doing our job,” Vallivue counselor Scott Herdegen said. “We increased the expectations in this school and its fun to see because the students are responding.”

Caldwell’s Vallivue High was just named one of Idaho’s nine most challenging schools by the Washington Post — an extraordinary accomplishment, since more than half of Vallivue’s students qualify for free or reduced-price lunch. Only one other Western school (a Tacoma, Wash., high school) made the list with a higher percentage of low-income students.

To rate schools, the Washington Post uses a mathematical formula based on the number of students who take AP exams. In Vallivue, 281 students are enrolled in 495 AP classes.  Approximately 95 percent of those students are scheduled to take 454 AP exams.

Normally, an AP exam costs $89. At Vallivue, exams cost $8 or $13. A $50,000 Go-On grant from the J.A. and Kathryn Albertson Foundation supplements the costs, to overcome any socio-economic barrier.

“We work tirelessly to encourage students to sign up for AP exams and one of our best tools in our belt was ‘I don’t have enough money’ could never be a reason to forgo the exam,” Herdegen said. “We believe this is a real-world example of how strategically spent money can have a very big impact on students.”

The Go-On grant money funds other efforts to get students college- or career-ready. Vallivue hosts career fairs, including professional-technical opportunities, and a robust program in AVID — Advancement Via Individual Determination, a college readiness system that is designed to increase learning and performance.

“We feel pretty good with the changes we made in advanced-placement opportunities, but AVID targets the kids in the middle and gives them skills so they can be successful,” said Vallivue Superintendent Pat Charlton. “This is giving us a new group of kids that are stepping up to college preparedness.”

School leaders target what they call ‘The Forgotten Middle.”

“The high-achieving students will figure it out on their own,” Herdegen said. “It’s those kids that don’t cause a lot of noise, earn a 3.0 GPA and are a real pleasure to have in class. They have a track record of not going on. Those are the ones we are really focused on.”

Another successful Vallivue venture is its mentoring program. Top-performing students mentor classmates. It includes tutoring, but it’s more than that. The program is about leadership, building relationships, collaboration and sharing best studying and learning practices.

“We have students who don’t come from traditional college-bound families going on and that’s something we are pretty proud of,” Charlton said.

Vallivue also transports kids to college and career fairs in Boise, exposing them to the environment outside of Canyon County.

“We’ve been really stingy with our grant money and making sure that all the money directly benefits the students,” Herdegen said.

Disclaimer: Idaho Education News and the Go-On School grants are funded by the J.A. and Kathryn Albertson Foundation.