Monday, July 29, 2002 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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High-school kids jump-start college

Seattle Times Eastside bureau

On a recent sunny Tuesday afternoon, 17-year-old Marci Kalif scrambled to finish a paper before class.

While her friends hang out at the beach or take family trips this summer, the soon-to-be high-school senior is shouldering a full load at Cascadia Community College in Bothell.

Kalif is among hundreds of Puget Sound students spending summer days in college classrooms, filling their minds and their high-school transcripts.

"When I look at my whole life, high school is a very small piece of it, and I can sacrifice now to get ahead," Kalif said.

Because of higher academic standards and intense competition for colleges, carefree summers may be fading into the past for many teens stretching to meet increasing expectations.

While no local data exists, 31 percent of teens nationwide were enrolled in school last July, up from 19 percent in July 1994, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. "Some of it is schools mandating summer classes for those not meeting standards, but probably more is students looking for any edge they can get to compete for college," said bureau economist John Stinson.

Puget Sound colleges say they offer high-school students summer learning opportunities to expose them to higher education, earn a few more tuition dollars and provide what their communities want. College officials say the demand for such classes has increased the past few years, with participation in some UW sessions even doubling.

Julie DeBarr, associate program manager for UW Educational Outreach, said more parents each year ask for letters confirming their child took and successfully finished the course.

"It's definitely part of that pressure that more students are feeling to apply to college with a full portfolio," she said.

Locally, teens say they take summer courses for many reasons. Some schools don't offer a particular class, especially advanced computer courses; some want a "practice class" before they take it in high school for a grade; and some say they can't squeeze everything into their schedules during the school year.

But the end result is the same: It's all about getting a head start to college.

"Everything you do, every decision you make, is for college," said Narek Shaverdian, a Mercer Island High School senior who is taking a computer class through a University of Washington program designed for ambitious teens.

Andrea Lai, a senior at Seattle Preparatory School, is taking computer programming and creative writing through UW's Educational Outreach program. Later this summer, she also will participate in a business program for high-school students at Western Washington University.

Lai said her parents encourage her to take classes each summer, but she gets to choose the classes. She's learning about computer programming to see whether she wants to pursue it in college.

"And it might look good to colleges that I'm taking different classes in the summer, trying to learn all I can," she said.

Most students take noncredit classes, saying they can gain a better understanding of subjects in a less-pressured environment during the summer. The classes also can provide a foundation to study for the Advanced Placement exam in a particular subject which, if they pass, can lead to college credit.

For some students, summer classes may mean foregoing some seasonal fun or a summer job.

"I don't do many productive things in the summer anyway — sleep in, watch TV — so this is a way to learn something, and it's fun working with computers," said Vikki Kwan, a Mercer Island High senior taking the UW computer-programming class. Batel Zur, who is going to be a junior in New Jersey, decided to take a class while visiting her sister in Bellevue this summer. She found the UW's computer-programming course online.

"It's a head start for college, and it's only in the mornings, so I still get to sleep in and hang out," she said.

The UW Educational Outreach program, started about a decade ago, offers roughly 125 high-school students in Seattle and Bellevue computer, creative-writing and art classes. The noncredit courses, often taught by high-school teachers, usually meet daily for two weeks and cost $300 to $400 per class.

"The classes allow kids to explore a particular interest, expose them to college, and it's a potential way for them to get ahead," said DeBarr, of UW Educational Outreach.

The UW also offers noncredit enrichment classes for about 600 middle- and elementary-school students each summer, such as art, robotics and Web-page development.

At Bellevue Community College, about 200 teens, ages 16-19, take college classes, with a high school-counselor's permission and passage of a high-school English test. While more than half take remedial classes, the rest take classes to get ahead, estimated Amy MacNeill, coordinator for BCC's High School Program.

Cascadia offers teens classes through the Running Start program, which allows those who qualify to take college courses at state community colleges during their junior and senior years of high school. They can earn both high-school and college credit at the state's expense during the school year.

Kalif, the Lynnwood student taking a full load at Cascadia, began Running Start last year, paying for summer classes on her own. She plans to graduate this spring with an associate's degree in science and will start college next fall as a junior at the University of Washington.

Not only will Kalif save her parents two years of tuition, but she'll get a major jump on her chosen career path: medicine. She said her parents have sacrificed much to send her to private school.

"So it's worth it for me to do everything I can now to get ahead," she said. "I'm still a kid, and I still do fun things, but this is for my future."

Colleen Pohlig: 206-515-5655 or


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