College-Level Class Goes to High Schools

Times Staff Writer

Colleges traditionally wait for high school seniors to come to them after the students complete the required lower-level courses and prove their intellectual and motivational mettle in a battery of entrance tests.

But in a novel case of the educational mountain coming to Mohammed, El Camino College has started sending regular faculty members to teach standard college courses on the campuses of two South Bay high schools.

The goal of the pilot program is to provide high-achieving seniors with a foretaste of the substance and style of college instruction, along with a head start on the credits they must earn eventually, El Camino President Rafael Cortada said.

In the joint project begun this month in the South Bay Union High School District, two El Camino professors are teaching a college course in political science to seniors at the district’s two schools, Redondo Union and Mira Costa.

Textbooks Are Loaned

The elective course in American government carries three college credits and is open to all seniors in the district’s academic honors program. Most of the instructional costs are paid by school support groups, and El Camino is loaning textbooks to the participating seniors.


Sixty-eight students are taking the course this semester and El Camino--one of the country’s largest two-year, single-campus colleges with an enrollment of about 27,000--plans to branch out into other subjects such as fine arts, history and math.

Cortada said he believes the program is the first of its kind in Southern California and one of only a few in the nation.

“Our school system tends to set up artificial divisions between educational levels, and so what we’re trying to do is to help make the parts blend together more smoothly,” Cortada said. “There is no reason why bright high school students can’t do college work and thus get an early exposure that can help accelerate the educational process for them.”

‘Treated Like Adults’

Seniors in the program at Redondo Union agree that they can handle the demands of a college-level course.

“It’s challenging because we can go beyond the routine busy work,” student Caryn Bredon said. “We’re treated like adults and we get into some really serious discussions of issues and why things happen as they do.”

Instructor Alan Small said his Redondo Union class is getting exactly the same course that he teaches at El Camino--and the high school students seem to be eating it up.

“These are all high academic achievers who are taking the course because they want to, not because it’s required,” Small said. “I expect them to show some thought process when we discuss a subject, not just spit back names, dates and places, and so far they are handling it beautifully.”

Another El Camino instructor, Willie Hamilton, teaches a similar, twice-weekly class at Mira Costa.

Cortada said the idea of teaching college courses on high school campuses grew out of discussions during the past two years with Hugh Cameron, the South Bay district’s former superintendent and now its personnel director.

“We were talking in a what-if vein, trying to think of some new ways that our two institutions could work together to help college-bound students make the transition,” Cortada said. “We felt the change should be a smooth, ongoing evolution, rather than a sudden metamorphosis.”

Cortada said he hopes to expand the visiting-professor program to other South Bay high school districts that send students to El Camino--El Segundo, Inglewood, Centinela Valley and Torrance--if the pilot project proves successful.

Spokesman Mary Ann Keating acknowledged that a secondary purpose of the program is to lure more students to El Camino. However, most of the honors students participating in the current program are expected to choose four-year institutions.