A triple win for students and schools / Joe Nathan’s Columns

“This collaboration is a win-win-win for students,” according to Katie Halcrow, director of community-based learning at Inver Hills Community College in Inver Grove Heights. She’s referring to the college’s collaboration with area middle schools, including schools in Burnsville-Eagan-Savage, Rosemount-Apple Valley-Eagan, St. Paul and South Washington County districts.

“Interest is exploding,” Halcrow explained, because everyone sees it as valuable, and it does not rely on any outside grant funding.“This collaboration is a win-win-win for students,” according to Katie Halcrow, director of community-based learning at Inver Hills Community College in Inver Grove Heights. She’s referring to the college’s collaboration with area middle schools, including schools in Burnsville-Eagan-Savage, Rosemount-Apple Valley-Eagan, St. Paul and South Washington County districts.

As I talked on April 21 with students like Grace Bolton, Nikkie Stewart and Stephanie Diaz, seventh-graders at Battle Creek Middle School in St. Paul, along with Inver Hills students, it was easy to see why the program is so popular.

College visits for high school students are pretty routine. But some research (http://bit.ly/1bDy2E3) shows that helping middle school students consider college can help reduce high school dropout rates and increase student achievement.

From left, Battle Creek seventh-graders Stephanie Diaz, Nikkie Stewart and Grace Bolton watch as Inver Hills students Bea Thao and Nathan Moua show them a sheep brain at Inver Hills Community College April 21. (Photo by Joe Nathan)

The seventh-graders were, among other things, dissecting a cow’s eye under the careful supervision of the Inver Hills students.

“It’s ishy, but I learned I could do it,” Nikkie told me. The Inver Hills students showed her how, and Battle Creek counselor Kim Rinehart gently, skillfully convinced Nikkie to try. Earlier they had looked at a sheep’s brain.

But Stephanie, Grace and Nikkie told me they liked dissecting the eye better. As Grace explained: “We didn’t just watch. We worked with it.”

A quick, informal survey of the 30-some seventh-graders found the majority liked examining the cow eye best, although some were most impressed with the college gym or the extensive art and music area.

Rinehart told me: “For many, this is the first time on a college campus. Seeing and talking with people who look like them helps our students develop a sense that they belong on a college campus.”

Lisa Tracy, an Inver Hills biology teacher, stressed the value of the experience for her students.

“Teaching others is a great way to make sure you’ve learned the principles and concepts we discussed in class. I love doing this,” she said.

Halcrow reports the college has discovered the value of these visits is clear and measurable.

“On one biology test, for example, Inver Hills students who had taught middle school students averaged 95 percent correct. A very similar group of our students who had not worked with middle school students averaged 75 percent correct on the same test,” Halcrow said.

Inver Hills students Nathan Moua and Bea Thao also had positive feedback. Moua told me he liked giving back to younger students. He agreed with his professor that teaching someone else helped him learn. Thao explained that she really likes “encouraging middle school students to work hard and prepare for college.”

Halcrow said Inver Hills prefers to work with eighth- and ninth-graders in this exploration, but “things have gone well with Battle Creek seventh-graders, so we’re willing to do this, too.” Middle schools pay for the buses and bring bag lunches.

Along with the benefit for Inver Hills students, Halcrow believes the program helps younger students consider attending the college. That’s a double benefit for them, complementing what the middle school students gain. As she explained, “It’s a triple win!”

I hope other middle schools will learn from what Battle Creek and Inver Hills are doing.

For more information, contact Halcrow at khalcro@inverhills.edu or 651-450-3241.

Joe Nathan, formerly a Minnesota public school teacher, administrator and PTA president, directs the Center for School Change. Reactions are welcome, please comment below.