Students sample college life and start career training early
By Nanea Kalani, Honolulu Star-Advertiser
Published: Aug. 18, 2014
Nine Oahu public high school seniors will be attending Leeward Community College full time this fall — and leaving their high school lives behind — as part of a pilot program that helps give students a jump-start on career-focused degrees.
The students will be the second group of seniors participating in the Jump Start program at Leeward Community College, a joint pilot project between the state Department of Education and the University of Hawaii's community colleges.
The students will spend their senior year taking all of their classes at Leeward for credit toward an associate's degree in a so-called career and technical education program of their choice, while satisfying high school graduation requirements. (The students can opt to participate in extracurricular activities back at their schools, such as sports and prom, as well as graduation.)
Participating public high schools select students to enroll in the program, and cover the cost of tuition and fees for the first semester, while UH pays for their textbooks. This year's Jump Start seniors are from Waianae, Farrington, Campbell, Pearl City, Kapolei, Kaimuki and McKinley high schools.
"The main objective of Jump Start is to provide an opportunity for a high school student to get a head start on their career path," said Ron Umehira, dean of Career and Technical Education at LCC. "Some students are interested in occupations that their high school isn't able to introduce or satisfy because the focus there is on general education and preparing students for college."
He added, "A lot of students have interest in areas like television production, automotive, culinary arts, digital media, health information technology. They want to start learning right away. If they complete their first year while they're in high school, they just need to return for one more year to get a degree that will provide the knowledge and skills to get started in an entry-level job."
By comparison, Umehira noted, the average community college student takes 4.5 to 5.5 years to earn a two-year degree.
“The foundation that we provide is tremendous,” he said.
Campbell High School senior Amanda Thirion, 18, said she would have been attending her last year of high school part-time because she's already earned most of the needed credits for her diploma. But participating in the Jump Start program at LCC, she said, will provide her a more productive alternative as she earns credits toward an associate's degree in health information technology.
"I'm going to medical school, so this will be a jump-start on school and it's a safe way for me to get comfortable with college," said Thirion, who will be the first in her immediate family to attend college.
McKinley senior Jewel Clemente, 17, said the Jump Start program motivated her to pursue higher education.
"I just thought after high school I'd forget about school, and I would just get a job," said Clemente, who is enrolled in LCC's teaching program.
Waianae High School alumna Kaelynn Waahila, one of 14 students in last year's LCC cohort of Jump Start seniors, said the experience has been challenging but worthwile.
"I'm in an actual classroom with other adults," Waahila, 18, said. "I'll be honest: I broke down some nights because I was trying to manage high school and college."
She added, "They say that high school prepares you for college, but I don't really agree with that because high school teachers and administrators treat the kids like kids. I grew up a lot this past year. I was pretty much on my own. I was used to being around my high school friends, but I'm glad I sacrificed that for this, and I'm glad I took this opportunity."
Waahila is working toward an associate's degree in teaching and says she plans to study psychology next.
The Jump Start program launched in school year 2011-12 with four pilot high schools — Farrington, Kaimuki, McKinley, and Roosevelt — and two community colleges, Honolulu and Kapiolani.
The project expanded in 2013-14 to Leeward Community College and six Leeward high schools and is looking to expand next year to Kauai Community College.
The nine LCC students add to eight other Jump Start participants enrolled this fall in Honolulu and Kapiolani community college programs. Last year, a total of 23 high school seniors enrolled in Jump Start, up from 10 students the year before.