Mapleton Early College High School (MEC) is a blend of two instructional models—Early College, which supports a college-going atmosphere, and Big Picture Learning, which supports Learning Through Internships and Volunteering (LTIV). The school’s advisory program is key to student success. MEC is one of five small high schools created in Mapleton School District when the district decided a decade ago to transform itself into an all-small-school model.
When students enter MEC, they join an advisory that they will stay with for 9th and 10th grades. During this time, students are introduced to the LTIV program. Ninth graders participate in large-group volunteer opportunities at local assisted-living facilities. As students progress through the LTIV program, they find new placements in elementary schools, bakeries, hospitals, auto body shops, and many other local businesses.
When students enter their junior year, they join a new advisory and have an opportunity to apply to MEC’s Early College Program. Through a partnership with Front Range Community College, MEC students in the Early College Program can earn an associate’s degree at the same time as they earn their high school diploma, staying in school for an extra (fifth) year to receive both. MEC pays the tuition. In addition, MEC offers single college classes to academically eligible students beginning their sophomore year.
Throughout, both the Early College and the LTIV approaches rely heavily on project-based, individualized, authentic learning, grounded in the community. MEC’s Director (principal), James Long pointed to the advisories as particularly important: “Our motto is One Student at a Time. We live that by ensuring that teachers create an individualized learning plan for each student in their advisory. These advisories become like a second family for many students. They work together, learn together, play together, laugh and cry together.” He added:
We focus on relationships first, building bonds between students and teachers before we tackle academics. When students know that you care about them as an individual and as a person first, they’re willing to work for you in a way that they wouldn’t work for somebody with a more traditional take on education. We have to build trust with every student because without it there can be no relationship and thus no academic achievement.