Running Start divides school community
By Hannah Spranger, Co-content Editor
Traditional high school schooling does not work for or appeal to every student, and Washington is one of five states that have adopted a Running Start program to provide an alternative education option. Since its conception in 1993, Washington State’s Running Start program has gained popularity and its influence has reached the halls of VHS. This year, a combined 41 juniors and seniors are currently enrolled in Running Start programs at different colleges in Seattle and Tacoma.
Many students choose to take classes at a community college in order to experience a new environment.
“I have been on Vashon my whole life, and I feel like it’s really easy to get comfortable in a bubble like this, and I wanted to experience new things in the city,” Running Start senior Jules Vanselow said.
The financial benefits of Running Start also appeal to many families.
“Some of the classes you take at Running Start cost thousands if you actually took them at college, so just being able to get those out of the way for almost nothing is good,” junior Levi Moore said.
However, it is not guaranteed that all classes taken during Running Start will result in saved money.
“If you don’t finish your [Associates Degree], the colleges can kind of pick and choose what they take,” VHS counselor Tara Vanselow said. “Parents have thought, ‘you’re getting two free years,’ when in reality you may only get six classes paid for, which is still better than nothing, but it’s not two years worth of college.”
Only about six students total finish their Associate Degree every year, and for those who do, entering university can be a jarring experience.
“If you wanted to move on to university, you’re entering as a junior and you have to declare a major right off the bat and I’m not 100 percent sure that 17- or 18-year-olds are ready for that decision,” high school teacher Jason Butler said.
For students with a clear career path in mind, Running Start functions as a viable option.
“I’m working towards what I want to do career-wise,” senior Cara Snodgrass said. “I’ve been able to take classes geared towards that end goal, and … when I was [at high school], the classes [were] just kind of general classes.”
It is possible that the lack of specialized classes and programs at the high school stems from the relatively recent increase in the number of students choosing Running Start. The school receives funding from the government from a formula grant based off of student population.
“Every student who walks through the door has a dollar value associated with them and so as a district, we count up students and that’s how much money we can expect from state and federal dollars that will then develop our programs,” Butler said. “That’s about $10,000, so every student we lose, multiply that by $10,000 and that’s pretty significant.”
The loss of students also impacts the VHS community.
“When you lose a lot of your juniors and seniors, that tends to have an effect on school spirit, the number of kids attending games as spectators, but also participating in sports,” Butler said.
A significant difference between VHS and Running start is the speed and length of classes.
“At VHS, we have a semester system, but they have a quarter system at South [Seattle], so everything was a lot faster,” senior Nelson Giorgini said. “I really couldn’t keep up with [the speed]; that was my biggest struggle with [Running Start].”
Switching from high school to community college is more than just a change of term system.
“All the safety nets of high school are kind of gone, so you have to be really independent and willing to be responsible for yourself … so I think that for some people is a downside,” Tara Vanselow said.
However, for most students who do it, Running Start is a very positive experience.
“If you feel like it’s something you want to do, it’s probably a good match for you,” Jules Vanselow said. “If you feel a little hesitant about it, just go visit the campus and stuff like that, or talk to people who’ve done Running Start because it’s a really important experience and you’ll learn a lot from it.”