Students at nontraditional high school take college courses

By: Terry Oparka | Troy Times | Published January 23, 2013

 Sterling Heights resident Megan Kinaia completes work in her computer class at Niles Community High School before she goes to her classes at Oakland Community College Jan. 8.

Sterling Heights resident Megan Kinaia completes work in her computer class at Niles Community High School before she goes to her classes at Oakland Community College Jan. 8.

Students come to Niles Community High School in the Troy School District for different reasons.

“I didn’t take school seriously,” Sterling Heights resident Megan Kinaia said. As a result, she was behind in credits at Sterling Heights High School.

So she went to talk with Debra MacDonald, supervisor at Niles Community High School. Kinaia heard about the school from friends. 

MacDonald said she interviews students to determine if Niles would be a good fit for them before they are admitted. “I only take kids that want to be here,” MacDonald said. “We have a tough attendance rule.”

“It changed how I felt about school,” Kinaia said of her enrollment there. In addition to her classes at Niles, Kinaia is taking math and English classes at Oakland Community College.

“It’s a big difference (from high school classes),” she said. “But Niles prepared me for it.”

Kinaia plans to continue her studies at Oakland Community College, then transfer to Oakland University, although she is not sure what her major will be.

Niles Community High School is a nontraditional school that assists students in metro Detroit who have fallen behind in acquiring high school credits, and it prepares them for higher education. Students do not have to live within the boundaries of the Troy School District to attend.

Niles student Susie Yahia, who had formerly attended Troy High School, was also behind in credits. “I was not serious about school, was having trouble at Troy High and (was) encouraged to try Niles,” she said.

“The staff knows you better and give you one-to-one help,” Yahia said. “I took school more seriously and put my all into it.”

Yahia is currently taking classes in English, humanities, psychology and sociology at Oakland Community College, in addition to her high school classes. She plans to attend Oakland Community College for two years and hopes to transfer to a university out of state after that and major in psychology.

Zach Dease came to Niles after attending Troy High School, although he had not fallen behind in credits. His older sister had attended Niles after she had fallen behind in credits.

“Troy High wasn’t really a good fit,” Dease said. “It’s really big. Niles is one of the best schools I’ve ever been to.”

He is taking courses at Oakland Community College that are prerequisites to the nursing program.

All three students will graduate “on time” this spring with Troy School District diplomas from Athens or Troy high schools.

MacDonald explained that Niles uses the same textbooks and curriculum as the Troy School District. She added that some students have a difficult time transitioning from middle school to high school.

“Once students fall behind, it’s easier for them to rationalize why school is not important,” MacDonald said.

Currently, 12 Niles students are getting dual credit for high school and college classes. Since the dual- enrollment program started four years ago, 50 students have enrolled in it. Students attend Niles in the morning, go to classes at Oakland Community later in the day and then return to Niles for classes.

The dual-enrollment program at Niles includes a college note-taking class that MacDonald said sets a higher standard so students gain a better understanding of what they need to be successful.

MacDonald said that many nontraditional high schools use an all computer-based curriculum.

“It can be very difficult in a math class to learn with minimal hands-on,” she said. “We take a lot of pride in that, in a government class, we have a government teacher. We still have that personal touch.”

Niles Community High School is currently accepting students for second-semester classes beginning Jan. 25. Students and their families should call (248) 823-5156 for information.