Students and high school educators are praising Northland Pioneer College’s Project TALON (Technology to Advance Learning Outcomes at Northland) that delivers general education college courses to 10 area high schools during the regular school day at the high school location.
NPC professors utilize high-definition, technology-connected classrooms to teach advanced Mathematics, College Composition, Spanish and American Government courses, with students earning dual credits — applying toward their high school diploma and college degree. All of the course credits are guaranteed to transfer to any Arizona community college or public university.
Now with one semester completed, the initial uncertainty of school administrators, counselors and classroom aides has vanished, with 91 percent rating the project’s as “very successful,” with the remaining 9 percent as “quite a bit” successful. Students rated their instruction “good to excellent” ranging from 77 to 100 percent in individual courses. Overall, 75 percent of the students earned a “B” or better, with 90 percent successfully earning the college credits.
“This was a valuable, eye-opening experience for all of the students,” notes Renell Heister, Project TALON director. “These are all rigorous college courses, requiring students to study harder if they are to succeed.” She commended the NPC professors for keeping the rigor at a college level, while recognizing the students’ maturity is still at the high school level.
“We had a few technology and student recruitment glitches that we worked out our first semester, but with our overwhelming success, more students will be seeking to take advantage of this outstanding opportunity,” adds Heister. NPC is revising its course placement structure, using high school transcripts rather than standardize test scores, which will open up the courses to more students who display the work ethic to succeed.
The goal of Project TALON is to provide college-level courses to under-served, Native American and rural high school students. One of the challenges facing smaller rural school districts is attracting and retaining instructors qualified to teach dual enrollment college-level courses. NPC professors all have at least a master’s degree in their field, with many having additional graduate-level work. “This makes quality NPC instruction available to excelling high school students consistently, year to year, with a reduced salary and recruitment burden on the local high school district,” she explains.
This first year, Shonto Prep, Hopi Jr./Sr. High, Red Mesa, Mogollon, Winslow, Joseph City, Holbrook, Snowflake, Blue Ridge and St. Johns are participating in TALON. Next year, Valley (Sanders) and Monument Valley will be joining the project. By the end of the grant in 2020 there will be 16 schools participating, with two added each year to reach the total.
Heister encourages parents to proactively seek information about college courses available to high school students. “Ask your student’s high school counselor about what dual enrollment college courses are available at your high school.” As dual enrollment courses, the high schools provide the college textbooks for students.
When surveyed at the end of the semester, many students expressed appreciation for the ease of access and the overall opportunity to take college classes at their high school during the normal school day. “The TALON program gave me a head start on college. I feel I am better prepared to go to college and I will be more successful because I know what to expect,” wrote one student. Interacting with students at other schools and being able to get quality help from an NPC professor were other frequent responses.
Heister is working with high school administrators to ensure Project TALON offers the right general education transfer courses needed by their students. She is also working with school districts to better align course meeting times and calendars. “One of the challenges for students in the TALON program is that they must attend their college classes when their high school classes are on break,” Heister said. NPC is adopting its academic calendars three years in advance to help better coordinate with area high schools.
Since high schools meet longer than NPC’s 16-week semesters, NPC staff members fill the extra time by providing information on subjects such as financial aid, writing a scholarship application, career readiness and college success strategies that benefit students regardless of their college choice. The student orientation component explains what NPC has to offer, both in degree programs and services, and outlines the expectations of students.
“Overall, it was a wonderful first semester that gave opportunities to students throughout Navajo and Apache counties. Sustaining the project after the grant will require cost-sharing and continued cooperation between the participating school districts and NPC in order to benefit students,” concluded Heister.
Project TALON is a Title III, Part A Native American Serving Non-Tribal Institution grant from the U.S. Department of Education.
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