WMHS among state leaders in CIS classes

Students at Watertown-Mayer High School apparently aren’t afraid of a challenge.
According to data from the University of Minnesota’s College In The Schools (CIS) program, Watertown-Mayer ranked among the top 10 schools in the state during the 2012-13 school year in terms of the number of students taking CIS classes. There were 126 schools from around the state participating in the program last year, and although the exact order of the top 10 was not revealed, Watertown-Mayer certainly was among some elite company. Other schools in the top 10 included the likes of Eden Prairie, Burnsville, Eagan, Shakopee and White Bear Lake, schools with enrollments between four and seven times that of Watertown-Mayer.
“Even though we’re not in the metro area and in their size range, it says a lot about our kids and staff,” Watertown-Mayer principal Bob Hennen said. “We not only have staff who want to teach it, but we also have kids who want to take it. It shows how smart our kids are and how hard-working they are.”
College in the Schools, a nationally accredited program, allows high school students to take college-level courses on their own high-school campus. Students can earn college credits before leaving high school, and the national accreditation ensures that students taking the courses are held to the same academic standards as college students, and that the teachers are selected and trained by the university.
Watertown-Mayer currently offers 17 College in the Schools courses. Hennen said about 40 to 50 percent of Watertown-Mayer students that graduated last year did so with at least some college credits, and that their CIS experience should have them well-prepared for college.
“I think there are multiple benefits, and one is their exposure to what college-level rigor and class structure will be like,” Hennen said. “It not only helps them now, but it will help them when they go to college. I’ve read all kinds of evidence that kids that take college level classes in high school do better in college than kids that don’t.”
Preparedness for college might be one benefit, but there certainly is a financial incentive for students to take CIS classes as well. In most cases, the University of Minnesota credits transfer to colleges around the country, both public and private, thus providing students with the potential to save vasts amounts of tuition money.
The 17 CIS classes at Watertown-Mayer carry a potential 61 credits. While students’ high school schedules don’t allow them to take that many CIS classes or earn anywhere near that many college credits, Hennen said that if students take full advantage, they can earn as many as 20 to 30 college credits before they leave high school. That covers anywhere from one semester to a full year worth of college.
“It’s just a great benefit for parents and kids because it’s such a cost-saving measure,” Hennen said. “Most of the credits will transfer to all or most schools. Some students can take a semester or more of college in high school, and save all that money and time. It’s a great way to become immersed in college life while still around their high school friends and teachers.”
Watertown-Mayer’s CIS program is certainly not new. Hennen said it’s been around at least since he came to the district as a teacher, roughly 15 years ago. Early on, the school offered only two or three CIS classes, but recently, the program has been expanding quickly, with six new CIS classes added in the last year alone.
“In the first few years, we were pretty limited,” Hennen said. “My goal is that we keep adding more. It’s so valuable for our kids.”
Hennen said one of the reasons Watertown-Mayer ranks so highly in the number of students taking CIS classes is the diversity in class offerings. For example, he said CIS classes are offered pretty much across the board in math, science, social studies and English. In math, for instance, students can even choose between several tracks, such as calculus, algebra or trigonometry. Watertown-Mayer’s agricultural education department even offers a CIS class, something Hennen said he thinks many other schools might ignore.
“We’ve tried to offer a lot of different courses in a lot of different areas for a lot of different paths,” Hennen said. “We’re so diverse and so broad that so many of our kids will find a niche where they can take classes. We’re trying to stress that not just our top 10 percent of kids take these. Eighty percent of our kids go to college, so we want as many of them as possible taking these classes. Eventually, our goal is to have college classes available in every curricular area.”
Much of the success of Watertown-Mayer’s program is because of the willingness of teachers to accept the challenge and additional work. Teachers must go through an application process for each specific class they want to teach. Many have a masters degree and numerous years of experience teaching in that specific subject area. Each teacher also goes through 7 to 8 days of training.
“For teachers, they’re asked to do a lot,” Hennen said. “If you don’t have qualified teachers, you don’t get to do (this program).”
Hennen said the school’s high ranking within the state is a source of pride for the school, but was also reflective in the support the program has received within the district.
“It shows how supported we are by the community, by the school board and by the superintendent,” Hennen said. “It’s a big money expenditure, but we believe it’s worth every penny we spend on it.”