A young Ottawa high school dual-credit program is already getting nods from state organizations.

“It’s really an honor,” Jeanne Stroh, superintendent of Ottawa schools, said. “So many of our people have worked extremely hard on this, and are dedicated every single day. It’s pretty nice to be recognized by a state organization for the innovations that our district has started.

“We’re pretty excited about it.”

The district was recognized by the Kansas Association of School Boards (KASB) in their January 2018 publication, titled “New day for Kansas education: How Kansas schools are using new resources.”

The KASB highlighted the district’s “C3” program, a partnership between Ottawa and Neosho County Community College that allows students to take courses for college credit at steeply discounted rates. The project also includes certification programs in a broad range of industries through NCCC.

The main motivator behind the project’s inception was the district’s economic demographics, Stroh said.

“We have about 50 percent of our students living in poverty, and our intention is to give every student the best education we possibly can,” she said. “We know that it is extremely hard to escape poverty and to reach the middle class, so we want to make sure that all our students, when they leave us, have the ability to get post secondary education that will help them reach the middle class.”

The initiative was the brainchild of Stroh and Ryan Cobbs — who was the Ottawa High School principal at C3’s inception — and built upon a dual credit program already in place.

“We’ve always offered dual credit courses, but when kids have to pay $60 or $70 per credit hour — if you live in poverty, that’s awfully hard to come by for one 3-credit hour class,” Stroh said. “We knew that that was an obstacle, and that kids that are taking college courses in high school don’t qualify for any grants or scholarships. So it was on us to figure out a way to get those classes to kids at a very minimal cost.”

The district collaborated with Dr. Brian Inbody, NCCC president, and drew up a flat fee agreement that lowered the student cost to $20 per credit hour.

“And for students who are not able to pick up the $20 per credit hour, we have some benefactors in the community who have agreed to pay that cost, so that kids can take as many hours as they possibly can,” Stroh said. “We want all of our kids to graduate from OHS with the knowledge, skills and behaviors to hold life sustaining employment, and we know that it’s awfully hard to do that with just a high school diploma.”

Enrollment in college courses at OHS has more than doubled since C3’s implementation.

“Our enrollment went from about 70 students who were taking dual credit courses, to about 174,” Stroh said. “It’s been incredibly successful, and parents seem to be ecstatic about it.

“We’re really proud of our program.”