Teen takes alternative route to college

Teen takes alternative route to college
James Hansen, 16, dropped out of the San Dieguito Academy earlier this year because he says he wasn’t being challenged. In January, James will start Bard College at Simon’s Rock, a small liberal arts and sciences college in western Massachusetts exclusively for entering 10th or 11th grade high school students. Photo by Lillian Cox

ENCINITAS — James Hansen, 16, is a chip off the old block. Like his grandfather, Jim Hansen, he has a curious mind and an insatiable thirst for knowledge.

In 2008, Jim Hansen and James’ grandmother, Pat, were honored as Carlsbad Citizens of the Year for being the force behind Carlsbad’s transformation to a center for the arts.

Jim Hansen accomplished this after retiring from the Oceanside Unified School District where he was a football coach, high school English and social studies teacher, and also instituted innovative programs in communications, peer counseling and cross-age tutoring.

Young James also excelled in school, maintaining a 3.5 GPA at San Dieguito Academy. But that’s where the familial similarities end.

Last January, James announced plans to leave the academy and enroll in North Coast Alternative High School.
He was eager to start college, even though he was a high school sophomore.

For James, it was the right move. The only thing he liked about high school was his participation on the robotics team.

“It was great because the team pulls from different practices and lets students experience what it’s like to build, do marketing and outreach, and write grant proposals,” he said. “At SDA, the robotics team is like the football team at other schools.”

While the robotics team satisfied his need to be challenged, he says his high school classes weren’t as liberating.
Last spring James started North Coast Alternative High School by taking classes in health and world history. In the summer he enrolled as a freshman at MiraCosta College, registering for English 100 and philosophy 100. He stepped things up in the fall by taking U.S. history and more difficult classes including pre-calculus, trigonometry and chemistry.

The results were impressive. James’ GPA increased from a 3.5 at SDA to a 4.0 at MiraCosta College. College credit was concurrently applied toward a high school degree from North Coast.

What’s more, James had the satisfaction of proving to himself, and others, that he knew what he was doing all the time.

On Jan. 20, 2012, he will be embarking on another ambitious adventure by enrolling in Bard College at Simon’s Rock, a small liberal arts and sciences college exclusively for entering 10th- or 11th-grade high school students.

“Going to MiraCosta College worked out well, but not as much as a four-year university,” he explained. “MiraCosta offers a good education but there are hoops you have to jump through every week to get your credits transferred to high school. Simon’s Rock is exclusively for minors.”

Another draw for James is that classes are small, between five and 10 students, and that students are encouraged to explore instead of focusing on just one subject.

“As a result a math student might switch to music,” he said. “Each class is run like a conversation led by a professor who wants students who are driven, individualistic and creative.”

The college is located in the Berkshire Mountains in western Massachusetts, which is also appealing to James. “I’m going to enjoy the change,” he added.

James isn’t able to say, for sure, that he’ll graduate in four years. Simon’s Rock also offers an A.A. degree.
What he does know is that he most likely will pursue music, graphic design and computer science. He also plans to continue operating a web design business based in Encinitas with his partner.

James’ grandfather supports him 100 percent, and admires his independent thinking.

“I was a high school teacher for 35 years and saw lots of students who were not satisfied with the traditional education for a variety of reasons,” Jim Hansen explained. “James is a modern Renaissance man with a variety of interests and accomplishments. The intellectual challenge of Bard College at Simon’s Rock represents a nontraditional learning community where he will thrive.”

For more information, visit simons-rock.edu.

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