Brownwood High School seniors Nate Martin and Beau Bronniman are just two of the over 200 students participating in dual credit/dual enrollment courses this 2019-2020 school year. Through the dual credit program, students earn credit for both high school and university courses.
"Time management and learning how to be responsible is what I really like about it," Bronniman said. "That's how college classes are geared: here's your syllabus, this is what you're going to learn, here's your assignments and due dates, now it's up to you to get it done." While students get a taste of the responsibility involved, they also receive the rigor of advanced education at their own pace. "Sometimes in a classroom, it is hard to get what teachers are trying to portray to you," Bronniman said. "But online, everything is there. The notes, the slides. So you can go through and come to an understanding of the topics yourself." Martin agreed on the effective use of technology in the program. "You can get a lot done. If you understand, you can go ahead and start your work, whereas in a regular classroom, the teacher has to go through all their teaching, and you're on the same pace and schedule as everyone else. It's nice to be able to go ahead, and if you understand it, just get it done." Martin has begun his first experience with dual credit courses, while Bronniman listed the many courses he has added to his roster, such as Spanish, English, Economics, History, and Government. "It teaches you how to be responsible and get your assignments in on time," Bronniman said. "You really have to be proactive." Martin agreed with the benefits. "I think it's prepared me," he said. "I didn't know what to expect going into an online college class. I really like how it's set up. It's good to get to see it before going to university."
Since Assistant Principal Lindsay Smith took charge of the program in 2016, the number of students participating has only grown, as well as the number and selection of courses offered. "We're not just focusing on one area, one type of student," Smith said. "We're expanding and looking at types of ways to grow all kids in BISD. And that's what sets us apart from other districts." BHS works with Texas State Technical College (TSTC), Howard Payne University (HPU), Ranger College, and the University of Texas and their ONRAMPS dual credit program. "All of these except for HPU has some sort of online component," Smith said. "Dual Credit is TSTC, HPU, Ranger College. The student gets credit twice for the same course. They're getting the same grade, as high school credit and college credit. In ONRAMPS, they are enrolled in two courses. In the high school course they may have a different grade than the college course." Smith explained that while dual credit courses can intimidate some students, most are up for the task. The UT ONRAMPS program even allows students to choose if they want to retain their final grade for their college transcript. "What keeps some of our high performing kids from taking dual credit is that their grade will get low, and they say they have to drop the course because they don't want it on their college transcript," Smith said. "They don't get to experience that rigor and intensity of a college course all the way through because they are worried about their GPA. Dual enrollment, with ONRAMPS, is so different. You have a student who's struggling with the college experience but they're excelling at the high school level, and they still get to experience both, without the anxiety and pressure. A student can go all the way through, and then at the end, they get to choose if they want to accept or deny the credit. So there's not that pressure."
In the name of streamlining and ensuring BHS faculty have adequate time and resources to instruct their students, many Advanced Placement (AP) courses have been shifted into dual credit courses. More courses enable students to move into higher education in a field of interest with certificates in hand upon graduation. "We are offering more AP courses. We're diversifying – we're offering more courses, not just academic courses, like AP Musical Theory and Musical Production. That's huge for kids,” explained Smith. “We have great partnerships with TSTC and Ranger College, and our welding program is exploding. That's good. They're included, although it's a very different type of course than Dual Credit English. It's still so valuable for those kids. I'd like to see us diversify as much as possible and have something for everybody. We're serving a whole population of students, and they're all different."
The program enables many students to graduate high school with experience in not just core subjects but also robotics, advanced music theory and production, photography, graphic design, veterinarian medicine, and languages. Career Tech Education (CTE) students can receive their diploma with a technical certificate in hand to begin a career in their field, such as welding, nursing assistance, and technology. "We have a budding relationship with our MAP program, our mechatronics program, which is a partnership with 3M, the City of Brownwood, and TSTC," said Smith. "We will be able to train kids on how to provide maintenance and upkeep to these heavy-duty machines they have."
The concept of practical application and diverse experience serves to expand the program beyond currently accepted norms. For example, dual credit students can earn foreign language credits by taking computer science courses. "Mr. Yantis has done a fabulous job," Smith said. "The language he speaks with his students is a foreign language. If a student takes Computer Science 1 and 2, they can get a foreign language credit. Those kids speak that computer science language, so why should they have go to into another language when they speak this one, sometimes fluently? We are making options available for students that other districts around here just don't have. That's exciting."
Brownwood ISD offers these courses for free to its students. This levels the field for those who may be hesitant to pursue advanced education. "It eliminates that barrier with students who would love to take it but don't have the money," Smith said. "Or they are afraid to take it because they don't want to end up failing and wasting that money, so they aren't challenging themselves the way they could." Beginning their freshman year, students may take some dual credit courses, starting new challenges and rigor as they progress toward graduation.
Nate Martin and Beau Bronniman are just two seniors moving into higher education with experience under their belts for the work to come. Martin has been accepted into the petroleum engineering program at Texas Tech. Beau Bronniman will be majoring in business management at Harding University. Because of dual credit, they are well on their way with credits on their record to be responsible, accountable, and primed for university life. "It prepares you," Bronneman said. "It's up to you to get it done."
Are students ready for courses like these? Are they invested? With the dual credit/enrollment numbers increasing each year, it would seem they are. "We have grown substantially," Smith said. "The kids are up for the challenge. They do it, which is so contrary to what the public, in general, says about kids in America – that they're lazy, they don't work hard, that they don't care about their future. But that is so untrue when you look at the numbers. Our advanced course options are attracting more and more students. We have something for everybody. We're serving a whole population of students, and they're all different. It's exciting."