Seattle University recently launched an innovative, alternative high school aimed at students who seek a small setting to complete their high school graduation requirements and prepare for success in college, careers and life.
Located in Loyola Hall on campus, Middle College High School at Seattle University is administered by the Seattle Public School District and intended for students between ages 16 and 20.
It’s a dynamic collaboration between SU’s College of Education and Seattle Public Schools (SPS) that has been many years in the making, according to Charisse Cowan Pitre, associate professor in SU’s Master in Teaching program and the Middle College partnership director. SU faculty and students contribute advice, advocacy, resources and support for the school in exchange for real-life learning opportunities.
The school, which opened in mid-November with 25 students, is designed for a maximum of 40 to 50 high school juniors and seniors. Recruit- ing students who live near the university is a goal.
Beth Brunton, SPS site coordinator and a humanities teacher, says factors that draw teens to the transformational learning environment of a Middle College are adversity at home and challenges at a traditional high school. Community building, leadership and setting norms — all common threads at Middle College — help students develop resilience and college readiness, according to Brunton.
Julie Hungar, who received her doctorate from SU in 1982, introduced the idea of Middle College to Seattle. Based on a proven model that started in the 1970s in New York City, Middle College high schools first appeared locally in 1991. The Middle College program now thrives with nearly 200 students at five locations throughout the city.
The individualized attention students receive blends group learning with digital curriculum, says Brunton, who taught at the Middle College in Northgate for 11 years before the SU location opened. Students focus on core classes of humanities, math and science in the morning. Afternoon classes provide college and career prepration and include special programming with guest speakers and career panels.
Jennifer Spigner, administrative coordinator for the SU site, meets with and screens all prospective students to learn more about their lives, dreams, career goals and what may have interfered with their success.
Brunton says believing in the students and creating bridges for them is a big part of teaching in Middle College.
“I don’t want this to sound like a fairytale. It’s hard work,” Brunton says. “The best part is seeing the transformation in stu- dents, from the very beginning to when they come back to see us after they’ve graduated and share how their hard work paid off.”