The Minarets U

awileman@sierrastar.comFebruary 25, 2014 

With college acceptance letters starting to arrive to high school seniors, students are beginning to prepare for the rigors of life after high school. But for Minarets seniors Ashlynn Lemon and Ciera Johnson, the step from high school to college will be a little less stressful, thanks to the preparation they have gained through a highly innovative program known as Minarets U.

Minarets U is a newly adopted university preparation program at Minarets High School and Charter School that combines a multitude of college-based curriculum with on-campus faculty support.

The program was developed by Minarets Principal Mike Niehoff, Jon Corippo and Claudia vanDenBergh, who thought it could benefit Minarets students by offering them a strategic program to gain college experience with a chance to obtain college credits. The program was designed to give students insight to a college environment that many of them will soon be experiencing.

There are three avenues students at Minarets can take to be involved in Minarets U. One option is through the Oakhurst Community College Center located in Oakhurst, which allows students access to the in-classroom experience while requiring students to complete college equivalent curriculum. Students can attend the college course outside of class-time and become involved in real-life college courses.

For those who do not wish to make the 25-minute commute to the community college, Minarets U offers more-accessible options, including MOOC (Massive Open Online Courses) classes, which are offered as a semester long online college certificate course.

The MOOC courses differ from other choices in that when a student completes a MOOC course, he/she receives a certificate of completion rather than actual college credits. The class is still a major benefit for those who are thinking of attending college but are maybe not quite ready to have their final grades posted on their transcript.

The final option, and most popular amongst students at Minarets, is through a nation wide program called youngscholars. Youngscholars offers distance learning courses from California State University, Dominquez Hills, taught through television and Internet sources available all day for use students.

The youngscholars program provides interactive online lectures where students can either interact with the teacher in real-time via a laptop or computer, or retrieve the lecture later in the day through youtube when they have free time.

Since most of the courses offered through youngscholars host their live lectures from 3-4 p.m., when most students are in class, the recorded youtube versions of the lectures give students the luxury of being able to fit the lectures into their schedule and study at their own pace.

Most students say they prefer the youngscholars program because of the flexibility it allows andthe overcrowded classes at the community college. And with most of the classes offered through youngscholars geared towards the humanities, students can complete much of their college elective criteria before ever stepping foot on a college campus.

For Minarets senior Ciera Johnson, this type of learning style is invaluable because of the flexibility that is offered and her ability to slow-down or speed-up lectures to her liking.

"When you were watching lectures you could stop them when you needed, or if you didn't understand you could re-watch it — it wasn't just a one time thing. That was very beneficial because you weren't scribbling to take notes. You could really let it sink in," Johnson said.

Students at Minarets who wish to enroll in the youngscholars program sign up for the classes of their choice, depending on what is being offered that semester. The classes are inserted into their daily schedule as one of their 85-minute block (elective) periods. Classes are held every other day as part of their eight-period schedule and give the student time to successfully complete work through a supportive, productive and goal-oriented environment.

Courses offered last fall through youngscholars included Philosophy, (Critical Thinking), Looking at Art, Sociology (The Individual in Society) and Biology (Introduction to Marine Life).

Students who complete courses through youngscholars receive three-units of college credit at Dominquez Hills, which can transfer to any California state and university college of their choice.

Minarets counselor and Minarets U program director Claudia vanDenBergh believes the program is unique to even most college courses because it offers a hybrid of online information combined with on-campus faculty support.

"We provide the time, space and support for students to work independently on a college class of some kind," vanDenBergh said. "They have a teacher who's been working with them on campus so if they need guidance or if they need help, there is some structure available. The students are not doing it on their own."

vanDenBergh believes that the digital culture at Minarets presents the perfect platform for students to access online resources that are quickly becoming the way of the world.

"The beauty of being a digital school is that the students have the access and materials they need to complete these courses here," vanDenBergh said. "The students have the tools they need to work on the online class, which anyone can do, but within the structure of the Minaret U, they have a teacher they can work with, if needed. So between the teacher who is staffing that class and the teacher giving the online lectures, they have more structure than just being thrown out there," vanDenBergh said.

The CSU Domuniquez Hills youngscholars courses are offered to students at the low cost of $3.50 (administration fee). However students are required to purchase their books for each course. The program offers courses on subjects ranging from Humanities requirements to Biology and Astronomy.

Ashlynn Lemon, a senior at Minarets High School, hopes to attend Reedley College where she will be part of the rigorous forestry and natural resources program. Lemon says the program requires that she take as much as 21 units a semester.

Lemon is on pace to finish her high school experience with 18 college units completed. Because of that, she believes she has already gained a competitive edge on some students and has released some of the stress that accompanies the large college work load.

"To have 18 units done is a huge weight off my shoulders," Lemon said. "It is an amazing opportunity to get units and courses over with while you have the resources and time."

The course is geared towards juniors and seniors although it is open to anyone who is interested. For more information about the youngscholars program, visit

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