Think of it as a two-for-one educational experience.

Starting next fall, Rock University High School will ramp up its efforts to help students earn high school diplomas and associate degrees from Blackhawk Technical College simultaneously.

Rock University High School Principal Kolleen Onsrud updated the Janesville School Board on the school’s expansion efforts Tuesday.

The high school, a charter school run by the Janesville School District, previously served grades 10 to 12. In 2018, the school got a $650,000 grant from the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction to expand to 150 students and add a ninth grade.

The school has 35 students now, and another 17 have been accepted for next year. The goal is to reach 70 students by the beginning of next year, Onsrud said.

Many Rock University High School students are already earning post-secondary credits, degrees and certifications at Blackhawk Technical College. The grant, the addition of ninth grade and increased collaboration with BTC staff mean that Rock University is moving closer to the model of a “middle college.”

A middle college program is an alternative high school that allows students to take a combination of high school and college courses to graduate.

How does the school offer what amounts to six years of education in four?

The first two years of school focus on critical thinking, reading and writing. Students spend almost all their time in core subjects such as math, social studies, science and language arts.

In their junior and senior years, students continue in their courses but take dual-credit classes—either at BTC or Rock University. For example, a BTC class in speech counts toward an English requirement for both college and high school.

“What many people don’t realize is that those courses at Blackhawk will transfer,” Onsrud said.

BTC has transfer agreements with a variety of post-secondary schools, including UW-Whitewater.

On Tuesday, Onsrud showed the board how a four-year schedule would work for students pursuing high school diplomas and associate degrees.

Board member Cathy Myers asked if the school was reaching minority students. One reason Rock University was founded was to reach students who were underperforming or didn’t see themselves as two-year or four-year college material.

Part of the grant requires the charter school to increase access for underserved groups, Onsrud told the board. Rock University has had success serving homeless students and those living in poverty, and Onsrud said she continues to reach out to students and parents across Rock County.

“Middle college” high schools are designed to offer college-level courses in small settings with the goal of boosting educational preparation for “historically underserved populations, including students from low-income families and students of color,” according to the Alliance for Excellent Education. The Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit works to improve educational outcomes for all high school students, especially groups that have been historically underserved.

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