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Students who fail to graduate from a traditional high school can get a jump on college and still complete high school, thanks to the High School Completion Program.

"It's a two-for-one kind of thing," said Carolyn Thompson, program counselor for the Provo School District. "Many students want to get on with future studies, and this allows them to overlap. They can finish high school and get a diploma, and at the same time take classes to move on in their college education."Thompson and her counterparts in Alpine and Nebo school districts are part of Utah Valley Community College's Center for High School Studies. They work with students who have left high school without a diploma, but are interested in concurrent enrollment at the college level.

Most of the students enrolled in the program are only a few credits away from high school graduation, Thompson said. Some students choose the completion program over district alternative or vocational high schools because the program better fits their needs.

Before the program was organized in 1986, school officials realized that many students were leaving high school to attend college, she said. "These students were not tired of learning. They were just tired of the traditional high school setting."

Many of these students, however, didn't succeed at college because they needed guidance and help in making the transition from the high school to the college environment, Thompson said.

That is when Provo School District and the community college began their joint venture to start the completion program. The college agreed to provide the office space, while the district agreed to run the program.

A year later, Alpine and Nebo school districts joined forces with Provo. According to Thompson, the number of participants has doubled almost every quarter since the program began.

"We started with eight students and had 21 students enrolled by the end of the quarter," she said. "Now Provo School District alone has about 40 students. We are doing well to service the schools we have."

Thompson, Nebo's counselor Marcia Barton and Alpine's counselor June Pratte help students complete specific graduation requirements, make transitions easier, and help students find direction leading them to further educational goals.

"Sometimes kids don't really know where to go for help," Thompson said. "This program is relatively small so they can come get help. We keep a close eye on them. This gives them more of a high school-like support structure.

"We make sure students understand the program and get extra care by the teachers so their chances of handling school are better than if they were to come on their own."

After taking the college-assessment test to determine skill levels in basic subjects, program participants learn what direction they must take to get a high school diploma. This determines whether they need to take skill-building classes or regular college courses, she said.

In an interview with the students, Thompson finds out what classes they need to take for high school graduation and what their career goals are. She then finds the classes that meet the student's high school requirements and at the same time give them college credits.

"I try to get them classes they really enjoy and that will count toward what they want to do," she said. "It's fun when we can get a class that meets all their needs."

Thompson also helps students register and make any class changes once school begins.

Interaction is another important part of the program, she said. Students must complete a weekly report form to track their class attendance and have it signed by their teacher. This gives them a chance to talk and ask questions.

A student progress report must also be completed and handed in to each district counselor. "I see them every week when they hand in the sheet," Thompson said. "Each time we meet, we evaluate the program. It's an ongoing process."

At the vocational high school, students can earn credits and get their diploma faster because the program is more individualized and lasts throughout the summer, but "it tends to be peopled by hard-core dropouts," Thompson said.

The high school completion program, on the other hand, is usually filled with students who have recently moved to the area or have dropped out of high school because of an illness.

"It's a much better program where students can associate with kids like themselves," she said. "It puts students in a situation where they can make new friends, provides them with a greater variety of classes, and more of a feeling that education is a serious part of life."

The program attracts a total spectrum of students who want to succeed and are highly motivated, but maybe for some reason or another they have not passed classes, said Merrell Hansen, Provo School District's director of secondary education. "This gives them a chance to make up the work and get their foot in the college door. The program has great possibilities for a wide spectrum of people."

Students also can feel like they are involved in what they are going to do in their lives, Thompson said. "UVCC is a small college, but it still gives students room to be individuals."