High school students get early start at VC

El Camino’s move to a college campus will give students easy access to higher education

By Hannah Guzik 05/15/2008

After lugging his clubs around course after course in Ventura County, Wyeth Bonney had decided: He wanted to be a professional golfer.

The greens were wide open, but his options, at least for the next couple of years, were limited.

That’s because Wyeth was still in high school.

If their families can’t hire an expensive private tutor, youths with exceptional skills or unusual circumstances often find themselves forced into an educational timetable that isn’t flexible enough for their needs.

El Camino High School in Ventura gives these students another option: independent study. The school, which will move from its Dean Drive site to the Ventura College campus this summer, allows students to build college credits while fulfilling general high school course requirements.

“The flexible schedule at ECHS gives me more free time to pursue my professional golf career,” Wyeth wrote in 2003 in a comment posted on the school’s Web site, elcaminohighatvc.org. “I like that I have time to play tournaments that enable me to try to qualify for CIF.”

Wyeth graduated from El Camino and transferred from Ventura College to Sacramento State University in 2006, according to VC.

His story is not unique to the high school of 280 students. Last year, 69 of El Camino’s 70 graduates went straight to college, said Principal Kelsie Sims. The student who didn’t went to trade school, Sims said.

Nearly all El Camino students take at least one class at a community college before graduating, which makes the transition to higher education an easier one, Sims explained.

“As far as we know, we’re the only high school in the state that has an independent study format and is on a college campus,” She said. “Theoretically, we could have a 14-year-old ninth-grader taking college classes at VC.”

The move to the VC campus will give the school more space and provide students with easier access to the college’s courses, which are free for high school students. Sims said she hopes to nearly double the school’s enrollment in the next few years.

The school has applied for a $400,000 grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to improve its early college program.

Already, some El Camino students take so many college courses that they graduate from high school with an associate’s degree, Sims said.

Ten state-of-the-art portable classrooms have been installed at Ventura College, near Day Road, directly across from Foothill Technology High School. Sims said the close proximity to another high school will give students from both campuses more opportunities because the two schools will coordinate some of their activities, like club meetings or dances.

El Camino’s new buildings have been placed on land that once accommodated greenhouses for Ventura College’s now-defunct horticulture program. In 2005 school officials eliminated the program and tore down the greenhouses because they were not up to code, said Alisa Moore, spokeswoman for the college. The elimination of the horticulture program – the only one in the county, according to former horticulture student Richard Flowers – upset a number of Ventura College students and faculty, some of whom have wondered whether the greenhouses were torn down to make room for El Camino.

“It’s like they were picking on horticulture,” said Flowers, an Ojai resident who now works at Green Thumb International in Ventura to gain plant care experience.

However, Moore said the decision to cancel the horticulture program was independent of the decision to bring El Camino to Ventura College.

“We didn’t weigh one over the other,” She said. “There just wasn’t enough of a demand for the horticulture program and we could no longer maintain the greenhouses.”

Unlike the ill-fated greenhouses, El Camino’s buildings at the college are permanent, Sims said. And while the high school, which opened in 1988, draws students from Santa Barbara to Thousand Oaks, many locals still don’t know that there is a public high school offering independent study in Ventura.

“It’s really not very well-known in our community, but it’s a really great option for our kids who don’t fit into the traditional high school model,” she said.   

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