Over the past two years, Running Start students from Lyle High School and their staff advisor, Cynnamon Hawkins, have quietly pioneered a model Running Start program for rural high schools in Washington state.

Running Start is a long-standing program approved by the Washington legislature that provides academically motivated students an opportunity to take college courses as part of their high school education. Both high school and college credits can be earned for the completed courses. Some students graduate from high school with two years of college and an associate degree already completed – tuition free.

Typically, students who participate take the courses on their local community college campus. In past years, Lyle students attended classes on the Mid-Columbia Community College campus in The Dalles and Hood River. A lack of public transportation or access to a car made it difficult for many to attend regularly, and credits earned in Oregon didn’t always transfer cleanly to the students’ Washington college transcripts, Hawkins explained during a presentation to the Lyle School District Board of Directors Jan. 23.

“I’m proud of the program Cynnamon Hawkins has nurtured here in Lyle,” Superintendent Ann Varkados, Ed.D, said. “It provides independence with plenty of support as needed.”

Hawkins approached Clark College in Vancouver about setting up an online Running Start program on the Lyle campus at the start of the 2017-2018 school year, and the college responded enthusiastically.  Now in its second year, 13 high school students are enrolled. Three participate part-time, while 10 are taking all of their courses online through Running Start.

Many students do the work online in the Lyle High School library while others are primarily home-based. Every student is required to be on campus on Wednesdays to meet with Hawkins. If a student is letting work slide or struggling to understand coursework, they work with Hawkins to get back on track.

Hawkins shared that three of this year’s seniors are all on track to earn their Associate of Arts from Clark College along with their high school diploma this spring. They are joined by a 2018 graduate who has stayed in the area but is working toward her college diploma by paying tuition and doing the work remotely here, with support from Hawkins.

Five of our Running Start students made the vice presidents’ list this fall, which requires they carry a full course load and earning a 3.75 GPA or higher, this past fall. Senior Sydney Rains, who earned a 4.0 in her Running Start classes, was not on the VP list, but only because she doesn’t carry a full course load with the college.

Students who attended the board meeting with Hawkins shared that participating in the program helped sharpen their skills in time management, organization, and personal responsibility.  

Participating in Running Start offers other advantages to students. 2018 graduate Phoenix Dorsey participated part-time, but it was enough to show scholarship and financial aid officers that he was capable of success in college courses. While funds are usually withheld until the student has completed his or her first semester of college successfully, Phoenix’s scholarship money was made available to him in the fall for his first semester on campus. He says he also found that his familiarity with Canvas, a software used on college campuses for collaboration with colleagues and instructors, gave him greater confidence when he arrived on the Evergreen campus.

Hawkins noted that Running Start gives many of our more academically successful students a program that challenges them, as well as providing access to classes the district couldn’t otherwise offer.

Students in the program can access classes at other community colleges, as well as Clark College.  Two students are taking part in a class at Lower Columbia College in Longview.

Clark College was so pleased with the way the on-site Running Start program has rolled out on Lyle’s campus that they are marketing the idea to other rural high schools.


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