Fewer than eight miles from the Palo Alto High School campus is a wholly separate yet equivalent education system that many Paly students are completely unaware of.
Foothill Middle College, composed of approximately 80 students, is an alternative option to the mainstream public high school route open solely to high school juniors and seniors from either the Mountain View-Los Altos Union High School District or Palo Alto Unified School District.
In two required year long high school level courses, along with two college courses of their choosing each trimester, all at Foothill College. This allows students to simultaneously earn high school and college credit in a non-traditional learning environment.
“I’m more excited to go to school now and I’m enjoying my classes because my teachers are so passionate about what they teach,” Middle College junior and former Paly student Anna Medoff said. “The community is so amazing, the people are so nice. Overall it’s just been such a good experience for me.”
Many students choose to transfer to Middle College after their sophomore year in public high school, when they feel that the traditional education pathway is no longer the most effective way for them to learn. Students such as Middle College junior Fe Hmelar enrolled in Middle College seeking an environment less stressful than that of Paly.
“I got to this point last year where I was so burned out and tired at Paly and I knew that it wasn’t healthy for me to be in that kind of environment,” Hmelar said. “I wanted to be in a community that was more easy-going and I needed a place that wasn’t going to add to my stress.”
Middle College is an alternative option for students who do not fit in the traditional high school mold and do not benefit from all classes being taught in similar styles and being surrounded by peers their own age.
I realized that I don’t have to be drowning in hours of homework every night in order to get a good education.
The program focuses on helping students reconnect to the desire to learn and explore their future possibilities. Middle College offers its students the unique opportunity of being a high school and college students at the same time.
To accomplish this goal, Middle College allows students to take courses that engage their interests, work alongside more mature students and develop a strong sense of responsibility and self-direction.
“You get to choose what classes you are taking and who’s teaching you, which is something you don’t have a say in when you go to Paly,” Hmelar said. “I just love that I have so much control over my education and I get to be the one deciding my future.”
This unique opportunity allows students to interact with small groups of peers their own age as well as larger communities of college students of all ages. Being in a class with middle schoolers as well as 50-year-olds immerses students in an environment with a wider variety of opinions and perspectives than those provided in traditional high schools. One of Hmelar’s favorite aspects about Middle College is the diversity of enrolled students she gets to interact with on a daily basis.
“You meet so many different kinds of people,” Hmelar said. “There are people that have actual life experience, some have kids or full time jobs and it is crazy because everyone in your classes are college students. So the students are there because they want to be there and they’re motivated and interested in what they are learning.”
The opportunity to work alongside so many different people is one that is not offered at very many schools.
“You get to meet so many people that you wouldn’t have otherwise gotten to know and you kind of get to see what the real world is like.” Medoff said.
Middle College’s classroom environment sets it even further apart from traditional high schools. Two big pulls for students are the opportunity to be taught by professors who are experts in their fields as well as not having the competitive nature typically found between teenagers in high school.
I just love that I have so much control over my education and I get to be the one deciding my future.
By taking college courses, students of Middle College have less “busy work” for their classes and a better understanding of what is expected of them.
The peers of Middle College students are generally more mature because the majority of enrolled students are adults which creates a different type of environment on campus that can be very attractive to some students.
There is also less pressure on students to maintain a high grade point average (GPA), as their classmates are not competing against them in the college admissions process.
“I realized that I don’t have to be drowning in hours of homework every night in order to get a good education,” Medoff said. “No one talks about grades or GPAs here, they are still important but is not the main stressors in your life. You have the chance to do other things and your time is spent doing things you actually want to do for yourself while still getting a really good education.”
Though the students of Middle College may be immersed in an entirely different education system, they are still involved with the high schools from which they came. Middle College students still receive a diploma from their original high school and attend said school’s graduation.
Students are allowed to participate in anything their original school has to offer aside from academic classes, whether it be sports teams, clubs or other extracurriculars.
“I was still doing cheerleading for most of my junior year, and it was a great way to stay connected with the people and my friends [from] Paly,” Medoff said.
Middle College can provide some students with exactly what they might need to make the most out of their last two years of high school.
“It’s a really good growing experience and you’re going to learn a lot. In the first couple of months people mature a lot.” Medoff said. It’s crazy how much you can learn in just a short amount of time.”