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2011 March 21 - 12:00 am

STUDENT SPOTLIGHT: Ore. Teens Get ‘Enhanced’ Class with College Profs

COOS BAY, Ore. (AP) — A room full of teenagers merged into one line by birth date without saying a word.

Then, they formed another line in alphabetical order of their middle names. Not a peep.

They’ve been silent since the first day of American Sign Language class, when professor Barbara Young told them: No talking; just signing.

Sheri Fellows was in the line and said she was excited to take the class both semesters, although she wasn’t so sure about the no talking bit.

‘I was like, ‘Oh, jeez. How is this going to work?’”

She’s been successful so far.

“It’s really easy to catch on.”

The American Sign Language class is one of several college-level courses being taught at Marshfield High School this year.

The program, called enhanced options, is a partnership with Southwestern Community College, through which college professors teach at the high school. The district pays the professors’ cost, and the students buy their books.

The program at Marshfield is an expansion of the same system that has been employed on a smaller scale for several years in North Bend and Powers schools.

It’s in addition to dual-enrollment courses, and it offers electives students wouldn’t otherwise be able to take, said Principal Greg Mulkey.

“Really, the goal was to try to enrich our curriculum and offerings here,” he said.

Previously, students could attend courses at the college, but they had to provide their own transportation. The travel ate away at class time in the high school, he said.

Holding classes at the high school level makes them more accessible, and Mulkey estimated 150 students enrolled in the seven classes offered last semester.

This semester, 130 students chose from American Sign Language, criminal justice, fire safety, business and introductory culinary. Last semester, athletic training and psychology also were offered.

Mulkey said he hopes the career-oriented courses open students’ eyes to a future job or to different educational opportunities.

The courses have been eye-opening for some of the professors, too.

Teaching all high schoolers instead of having one or two in a class at the college is new to most of them, said John Berman, SWOCC’s high school liaison.

Barbara Young, who teaches sign language, had the occasional high schooler enroll in her class at the college. Teaching all high schoolers on their own turf was new.

If she was slightly apprehensive, she’s sold now.

“They’re good kids,” she said.

“It’s a blast. It’s so fun.”

The students are doing as well — if not better — than most of her college students, she said.

“These kids have adapted really, really well,” to not speaking, Young said. “They not only learn signs, but learn about deaf culture and the challenges people who can’t hear face.”

“These are students that we’re hoping will come out here. There’s no question about that,” Berman said.

Other classes are also prospering. Already, students in the introductory culinary class have applied the full college program, he said.

The courses are inexpensive and make a college degree cheaper for students because they’ll have fewer credits to pay for, he said.

Students who take the introductory culinary course get immediate benefits when they take the safe-serve food-handling test for certification, Mulkey said.

The sign language course is such a leg up for Fellows, who said she plans to attend the local campus in the fall.

She’ll study early childhood development for a career in preschool education, in which she’ll use sign language a lot, she said.

In general, the class has made her feel more prepared for college, she said.

“It definitely teaches you to be responsible.”

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