Xavier Camacho wants to be an attorney when he grows up. He said his school — Oxnard Middle College High School — is his ticket to the bright future he envisions.
“I thought it was a great opportunity (to come to Oxnard Middle College High School) because I could graduate with an associate degree,” Camacho said. “And my family isn’t really known for graduating college. Some of them barely got through high school. So if I finish this school, I would be the first grandchild with a degree of some sort, so I was hoping I could encourage the other ones to get a degree.”
Oxnard Middle College High School opened its doors on the Oxnard College campus this year to 39 students who are enrolled in high school and college-level curriculum. The purpose of the school is to give the students a leg up on getting a degree from a community college while getting their high school diploma.
“Literally we are taking junior high students and they are merged right away in taking college courses, along with high school classes,” Principal Maricruz Hernandez said. “This is our first journey, this is our first cohort of students.”
A family environment
On any given day during nutrition time, you can walk into the main office at Oxnard Middle College High School and see groups of students eating with their principal, their counselor or their two high school teachers.
“It’s very much a family environment because we are so small,” Hernandez said.
The smallness of the school and the class size is one of the things that draws students in, and something school officials make sure families are well aware of beforehand.
“The students are seeking a small environment, a rigorous environment, but a small environment,” Hernandez said. ”Their academic skills have to be strong. They have to have a 3.0 minimum coming in; they have to have letters of recommendations from teachers who know their strengths. And they have to write a personal essay on why they feel they would be a good candidate for a small setting like this.”
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The students say they like that their class sizes are small. Although the first couple of weeks of being on the sprawling Oxnard College campus was a bit overwhelming.
“It’s different and it’s unique because it’s not like your typical high school experience,” said Caitlin Simardjaja, a student at the school. “The college students were a little intimating, but you get used to it after you’ve been taking the classes for a while.”
Moncerrat Hernandez said it wasn’t the size of the campus, but the amount of work that was overwhelming for her. But she said she’s hit her stride.
“My favorite part has been the experience and how small the environment is,” Hernandez said. “I would definitely recommend it to other students because it’s a great opportunity and it gets you into that college environment. After high school I want to attend a university. My dream university would be UC Berkeley and I want to become an aerospace engineer.”
More than one middle college in the county
Elsewhere in the county, a middle college has been up and running for years. The High School at Moorpark College takes students in their junior year of high school and places them on a college campus where the goal is to make progress toward a degree in a small setting.
“We service students in the 11th and 12th grade only, but we are preparing to include ninth and 10th graders in the next two years,” Principal Ruby Delery said. “It’ll be a comprehensive middle college.”
Delery, much like Hernandez, said they are looking for students dedicated to a university pathway and those willing to put in the work.
“The students that we look for are motivated and want something different as far as an educational experience,” Delery said. “They also want to get a head start on college and get as close to or complete their AA degree, which is really important based on what we do here.”
There are currently 60 students from throughout Ventura County and neighboring areas attending the high school on Moorpark College’s campus. The students have access to all the amenities on the college campus, and many take advantage of it. Much like Oxnard Middle College High School, the school works to make sure students have the resources they need to be successful.
“I worked in admissions for a long time, I really believe this is what school is about — being competitive within yourself, but also learning real, relative skills,” Delery said. “It’s that social-emotional part where students need that balance. They go through the first semester of college and they go, ‘Oh man, that was nothing, bring it on.’ They are getting a head start and they recognize that.”
‘Once in a lifetime opportunity’
Oxnard Middle College High School will expand upon its first class next year, and in four years it will have freshmen through seniors attending the school.
They’ll need to expand their staff, too. Currently, there are just two teachers, the principal and a counselor on staff, not including the college professors who teach the classes the students take through Oxnard College. The two teachers wear a lot of hats.
“It’s been a really great opportunity,” said Emily Guthrie, who teaches English among several other things to the students. “It’s fewer students who we are giving a lot of support to. But I’m teaching a lot more than English. I also teach (Advancement Via Individual Determination) and oversee the Associated Student Body and academic enrichment. It’s been really eye-opening seeing what the students’ day looks like.”
Making sure the students have access to AVID and ASB is part of making sure they have as well-rounded a high school experience as possible. If the students so choose, they can opt to participate in sports programs at their home schools.
As the current ninth graders progress through their four years at the school, they’ll be able to increase the number of college courses they take as they see fit. In their first semester, they are taking one college course. In a couple years, they may be taking two or three depending on what they can handle.
The coursework is certainly different from anything the students were used to in elementary school or middle school, but they say they’ve been able to handle it thanks to support from the staff.
“It’s challenging, but the professors at the college already know our situation so they are willing to accommodate for anything we need and then our high school classes sometimes will slow down and make sure we understand everything,” Camacho said.
Camacho said his experience at Oxnard Middle College High School is prepping him for the rest of his life and is helping him stay on track to go to law school.
“This is a once in a lifetime opportunity,” Camacho said. “If you pass on this, it’s like you pass on the lottery.”
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