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CONTACT: Bruce Smith
Public Information Officer
(310) 434-4209
DATE: March 24, 2006


When Taft High School in Woodland Hills won the state Academic Decathlon March 19, the nine students who make up the brilliant young team deservedly received accolades and media attention for being outstanding secondary school students.

But what is not well known is that all team members – who are headed to the national decathlon in late April – are also Santa Monica College students. They are all in SMC’s highly praised dual enrollment program, which offers college courses to approximately 1,500 students at 30 high schools throughout the Los Angeles area.

SMC’s dual enrollment program “is a great source of pride” at Taft, said Dr. Arthur Berchin, Taft English teacher and coach of the decathlon team, which he has led to two national and several state championships.
“By having the dual enrollment program, we have done something that no other high school to our knowledge has done: provide students their first two years of college English by the time they graduate from Taft,” Berchin said.

SMC’s dual enrollment program works with each high school to meet its needs. In the case of Taft, the program offers four semesters of college English, beginning with freshman English and moving into advanced composition and U.S. ethnic literature. Students in Taft’s Individualized Honors Program – after receiving English assessment tests administered at SMC – begin the dual enrollment courses their junior year.

Berchin said dual enrollment has an advantage over the traditional Advanced Placement program because not all universities will give college credit to students who have passed the AP tests. Dual enrollment students receive high school and college credit, and the English courses are transferable to four-year universities.

Most of SMC’s dual enrollment courses – about 65 percent – are in the arts, such as drama, dance, music and visual art because so many financially strapped high schools have scrapped their arts programs, says Dr. John Gonzalez, SMC dean of academic affairs. Even the non-arts courses are in disciplines not typically offered in high schools, such as psychology, speech and sociology.

The courses supplement the high school’s curriculum and are offered at the secondary school campuses. Studies show that 10 percent of high school students in the dual enrollment program come to SMC after they graduate.

SMC launched its dual enrollment program in spring 1998 with 675 students at 17 campuses. Since then, it has more than doubled in size and reaches students at high schools from the affluent suburbs to the inner city. The program has been at Taft for three years.

Berchin, who teaches three of the four SMC English courses at Taft, said the dual enrollment classes are “more rigorous” and thus give his Academic Decathlon team members a significant edge in the tough competition.

The team is now preparing for the U.S. Academic Decathlon, which will be held April 27 and 28 in San Antonio, Texas. Taft will compete against more than 40 other teams, one from nearly every state in the country.

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