Where College & High School Unite
By Matt Larson
Get a high school diploma and an AA while you’re at it.
Choices students make early on can have a significant impact on their academic journey—especially if they’re in 8th grade and live within the boundaries of the West Contra Costa Unified School District.
Middle College High School (MCHS) in San Pablo is a viable option for any West County student. There’s no GPA requirement to get in, but they do consider things like attendance, writing proficiency, and confidence in STEM subjects when determining admissions. What makes MCHS different from the rest?
“By the time they graduate from our program here in four years, about 68% of our students earn an AA degree,” said MCHS Principal Finy Prak. MCHS is part of the greater Middle College National Consortium, a network of likeminded schools spanning across the country.
“We have a unique guideline with the State of California Department of Education,” Prak continued. “Our students have to take 180 high school instructional minutes per day, and each student is allowed to take 2-3 college classes per semester.”
Here in San Pablo, MCHS experiences a 100% graduation rate; 60% of their students go on to attend a UC or CSU, and the other 40% remain either at Contra Costa College (where MCHS classes are held) or continue on to another community college before transferring. Regardless, it’s also a 100% post-education rate for MCHS students.
The real question now is, why doesn’t every student in West County take advantage of this opportunity?
Generally, that answer is because many students want a traditional high school experience, and MCHS is not a traditional high school.
“We’re a very unique program,” Prak explained. “Our program is not structured like other high schools, and our students have to be very mature and independent.”
There is no bell schedule at MCHS, nor is there a sports program. Students can still partake in extra-curricular activities, but that is to be done with an arrangement at one of the other high schools in the area.
“We do clubs and prom, but some people just like that social, traditional, high school experience,” Prak said. “Every kid comes here for their own reasons. We have a lot of artistic students here; ones who are okay with avoiding the social pressures of a traditional high school; ones who are a little more mature and just want to do their own thing without having to deal with fitting in with the mainstream groups.”
MCHS is, indeed, not for everybody. But it’s certainly worth looking into considering how it can set students up for such a bright future. A lot of MCHS students excel in the areas of science and math, especially in nursing, pre-med, and engineering. And it is a public school as well, so all they’d have to do is apply as an 8th grader to be considered.
Earlier this year MCHS was honored, alongside 162 middle and high schools in the state, as a 2019 Distinguished School by State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Thurmond. Which only reinforces the fact that the MCHS team is doing great work.
“It’s a great recognition for our students, and it’s just a testimony that our program works,” Prak said. “It means a lot as a positive reflection not only for MCHS, but for our district and for Contra Costa Community College—this partnership [with the college] has been around since 1989.”
If you or someone you know might benefit from what MCHS can offer, give them a call now at (510) 215-3881 or visit wccusd.net/middlecollege. They are located on the Contra Costa College Campus at 2600 Mission Bell Drive, San Pablo. Prak also encourages parents and students to meet with their middle school counselors to see if this might be a good fit for high school.
“A lot of our students are first-generation to go to college, from families and circumstances that are challenging,” Prak explained. “So they really pursue this program to give them a leg up after high school.”