Free A.A. degree motivates high schoolers

May 01, 2007|By Michael Miller

Early College High School student Sarah Magaña calls her campus "a big happy family."

Her biology teacher, Candace Leuthold, calls it something else: the school without a fight.

Early College, the newest campus in the Newport-Mesa Unified School District, began recruiting for its second freshman class at the start of last month. The school, run by Newport-Mesa and Coastline Community College, includes both high school and college classes — and Leuthold, who previously taught at Newport Harbor High School, said those high standards have an impact on student behavior.

"We haven't had a single fight on campus," she said. "Not one."

Early College students, who cram to earn a high school diploma and an associate of arts degree in five years or less, may not have much time for fisticuffs. The school's 72 freshmen signed up for Early College in hopes of getting a jump on their college education — and now, Sarah and her classmates are touring Newport-Mesa's secondary schools to enlist the next batch.


In April, a group of Early College students and faculty visited TeWinkle Middle School, Ensign Intermediate School and Costa Mesa Middle School to show an eight-minute DVD and talk about their experiences. The group plans to recruit at high schools in the coming weeks, since the ninth grade class still has 28 spaces open before it reaches its enrollment limit of 100 students.

Principal Kathy Slawson said Early College is demanding academically but noted that for many students, having small classes and free college credits offset the hard work.

"All in all, they really like the idea that they'll get a lot more attention," she said. "A lot of them really like the idea that they'll get a free A.A. degree in five years."

In late March, Newport-Mesa put recruitment on hold at Early College as administrators scrambled to find a permanent home for the school. Early College, the first new site in Newport-Mesa since 2001, opened in portable classrooms in August on the Back Bay/Monte Vista High School campus. Coastline had promised a full-time facility within two years, but had yet to come up with one as summer approached.

The college finally came through and offered its Costa Mesa campus as a permanent home. Early College students, who had already filmed their recruitment DVD earlier in the year, promptly took the show on the road.

Ethan Flores, 15, was among the students visiting middle schools in April — and he had gotten varied reactions. At one school, he said, students seemed hesitant about applying to Early College until their friends expressed an interest.

"One girl came up and picked up a brochure, and then she turned around and said, 'You guys are stupid,'" Ethan said. "So then a lot of other kids came and picked up the brochures too. It's kind of a follow-the-leader thing."

  • MICHAEL MILLER may be reached at (714) 966-4617 or

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