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Murray Journal

Murray High students learn practical skills through college concurrent enrollment course

Sep 08, 2023 12:53PM ● By Julie Slama

Murray High-Salt Lake Community College’s Education 1020 concurrent enrollment class visited SLCC’s college campus as part of their college preparation. (Heather Wihongi/Murray High)

Recent Murray High graduate Maylee Riches may have a step up from other incoming college students, thanks to a college preparatory course that was piloted last spring at her school.

Riches enrolled in Salt Lake Community College’s Education 1020 as a concurrent enrollment class, where Murray High teacher Heather Wihongi taught 14 students, opening their eyes to post-high school education opportunities. Not only do the students receive high school grades, but they earned three college credits.

“I thought it was a good opportunity to learn how to apply for scholarships and learn more about colleges,” Riches said. “It sounded beneficial, and it has been much more than I expected.”

Wihongi developed the class curriculum. She said that Salt Lake Community College provided her a guideline, with a textbook, but also allowed her the freedom to “take this any direction you want to.”

“There were more than eight, maybe 10 schools, that planned to pilot the course, but only Murray came through with it,” she said. “A lot of what they gave me was geared toward college students; it hadn’t been done in high school before. So, I started with completing a FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) as many colleges require it and then, I included applying for college scholarships as part of our curriculum. Our counseling office is amazing and gave me information about local scholarships, so I’d have them choose some to submit for assignments.”

Riches, who took Interior Design I and II at Murray High, already had decided to study interior design at Utah State University before enrolling in the class, but she gained “the ‘in’ on scholarships.” She said she learned what to include in scholarship applications, such as highlighting her leadership experience, and how to apply for internships.

“Mrs. Wihongi gave us a lot of resources for scholarships in class so we learned how to really do those,” Riches said, adding that she was able to include her being co-captain and president in drill team as leadership experience on her applications. “Writing my resume and applying for scholarships gave me the opportunity to reflect on what I’ve done and sharpen my focus on my future.”

The class also benefited from visiting college campuses.

“We went to SLCC and University of Utah,” Wihongi said, adding that in upcoming classes she hopes to rotate through several Utah colleges, technical schools and virtual higher education learning. “It’s eye-opening for them to get on campus. They loved being there and seeing people get together at the library for a study group and listening to somebody talk strategy to us about finals.”

They also learned as concurrent enrollment students they have access to SLCC facilities, the library, the gym, so “they felt welcome and it became a reality for them. They began to believe college is not as intimidating anymore,” she said.

As regular part of the class, Riches learned from guest speakers about their college experiences.

“I loved how many different points of views that we got from other people who attended colleges. They talked about how college is a good thing to do. I learned about student housing, the social aspect of college, how to have a job on campus, how best to create your class schedule and about every aspect of college life so I’m walking in more prepared,” she said. “I was on the fence about student housing so it’s nice to learn that some people really love student housing, saying it’s good way to meet people and the same with getting a job on campus. Lots of people say those are two ways they made friends outside of classes.”

Wihongi said many speakers are teachers, former students, parents and professionals who spoke on a variety of topics all centered around their college experiences.

“We had our 30th speaker today. We’ve had one nearly every day. It’s been awesome. I want to give them as many different perspectives beyond my own. We’ve had people from the community, teachers and parents who have reached out, wanting to share their paths from high school to career, how they chose their majors, advice on scholarships, working while you’re in college, planning a backup career, volunteering—just so much insight and advice they shared with the students,” she said, adding that students write reflection papers about what they learned from the speakers.

Lessons also addressed time management, stress management, different learning styles and strategies, various methods of note taking and learning environments.

“We always spend the first 10 minutes of class with discussion. I give them a writing prompt, and we discuss it. I’m loving the input and maturity of the students. They are articulate and insightful,” Wihongi said about her first concurrent enrollment class she’s taught. “We’ve been going over a lot of these adult life skills. We’ve even talked about nutrition and money management, some real life skills that they’re going to need. They already will come out of school with English, math and science, but these are real life skills they can take and use immediately and be able to use.”

The class includes research projects about college majors and careers within those majors then presenting their findings to the class to practice their public speaking. Wihongi credits the school librarians for assisting students to learn researching techniques.

“Almost everyone has been involved in this class, wanting to help students succeed now and have the tools to do so in the future,” she said.

This school year, the course will be offered in both fall and spring terms. As of late spring, 60 students already had signed up for the class.

“There’s valuable information throughout the whole college application process you can do all year long,” Wihongi said.

These Education 1020 students include first generation to attend college, to those headed toward a community college, to those going on (church) missions or are taking gap years. Wihongi said some know which university they want to go and are there to learn more about scholarship opportunities while others need encouragement to further attend schooling.

“I’m here to show them they can do it. I tell them, ‘This is an absolute reality for you. We’re going to help make that bridge a little bit easier for you,’” Wihongi said.

This year, students will make digital portfolios in a Google drive folder with different notes and resources, a personal statement, recommendation letters, resume and other materials they gather and assignments they do so they will have access to them in college.

They also may include more on resume-building and interviewing for internships and scholarships. 

“It’s good to add skills they’re going to need to know as we’re offering the course both in the fall and spring so the focus will shift to those students who are going through the college application process. It’s a fun class and a step away from my English classes,” Wihongi said. “They’re not studying Jane Austen’s ‘Emma,’ but instead, they’re learning real life skills that they can use in college.” λ