New dual enrollment Environmental Science class to start next year


Palo Alto High School Environmental Science teacher Nicole Loomis lectures to her Advanced Placement Environmental Science class Wednesday morning. Loomis is the creator and teacher of the new dual enrollment Environmental Science class which will be available for students to take beginning next school year. According to Loomis, she hopes students will consider taking this class if it meets their preferred standards as opposed to APES. “We really are encouraging all students to consider it [dual enrollment Environmental Science],” Loomis said. “The math requirement is a little bit less than APES, which I think has been a sticking point for some folks and it [dual enrollment] actually is approved by CSU and UC for a transfer program. If you wanted to major in environmental science, these courses would count if you were to go to UC or any of the CSUs.” (Photo: Leena Hussein)

Leena Hussein and Celina Lee

In order to provide students with more variety within classes, Palo Alto High School will offer a dual enrollment Environmental Science course beginning next school year. 

A component of the Palo Alto Unified School District’s Promise is to increase the number of dual enrollment classes high school students can take and to shift some Advanced Placement classes to dual enrollment courses. Dual enrollment Environmental Science students will be enrolled in both Paly and Foothill College and receive college credit for completing the class.

Dual enrollment programs at Paly, including Environmental Science, count as a weighted class in students’ grade point averages, similar to Advanced Placement and Honors courses. Since dual enrollment is a part of Foothill College curriculum, the grade will appear on a college transcript in addition to a student’s high school transcript. Dual enrollment credits provide a more seamless pathway for students going into community college, according to the Curriculum & Career Education department. 

Advanced Placement Environmental Science teacher Nicole Loomis created the dual enrollment Environmental Science course last year and has since been making preparations to begin teaching it at Paly.

“It’s taken me quite some time [to prepare],” Loomis said. “In order to be the teacher of record at a community college, you have to meet their requirements, which is that you have a master’s in that subject or go through some equivalency process. I’ve been going through the process to get approved for all the classes that it [dual enrollment environmental science] will give you credit for.”

According to Loomis, dual enrollment Environmental Science will have a heavier focus on labs and projects rather than tests in comparison to AP Environmental Science. 

“AP [Environmental Science] is teaching toward a test so there’s a heavy reliance in your grade on tests,” Loomis said. “There’s a lot of time spent practicing for how to take the test and learning how to take the test. Dual enrollment is not test focused as much, there’ll be more projects and labs. Each class that you get credit for at the Community College has a set of things you need to cover so there is already a curriculum that you have to go through.” 

Loomis said the content of the dual enrollment class will initially cover the same topics as APES classes then split off during the second semester.

“It’ll start similar but will then diverge,” Loomis said. “The first semester will be environmental biology with lab so it will be mostly focused on living systems. The second semester, we have more of an earth science class with a lot of maps and so we’ll be using ArcGIS [software] and that’s a really good skill to have moving forward going into college, so that’ll be a little bit different from AP.”

APES teacher assistant Anna Hagan believes the Environmental Science dual enrollment course could be a beneficial option for students looking to take rigorous courses that aren’t AP classes.

“It [dual enrollment Environmental Science] is a good idea because if kids don’t want to take an AP course or don’t have room for another AP course they can have that [dual enrollment] instead, they have the option,” Hagan said. “Or if they’re scared of taking an AP course they could still take this class which goes at a different pace.”

Senior Charlie Merkel, a student who is taking APES this year, believes that the dual enrollment Environmental Science class will give students interested in the topic more options.

“Since APES is so popular more options to be able to pursue more advanced curriculum would be fantastic,” Merkel said. “For those that want harder content than being taught in normal classes, this is great. I think dual enrollment is a great option for many classes, the experiences students get when applying to college classes are very useful in the future.” 

According to Loomis, the dual enrollment course is a convenient opportunity for students to take a real college class directly at Paly. 

“It doesn’t cost students anything,” Loomis said. “It’s taught here by a teacher who has a master’s and is qualified to teach at the community college but it will be taught here just for Paly students. Sometimes people think dual enrollment is inconvenient because you have to go to the college, or that it’s more expensive because you have to enroll at the college. That’s not the case here because the district is absorbing that.”

Loomis said she hopes the class will gain student interest and become a source of excitement.

“I just hope students sign up and take the class,” Loomis said. “It’s going to be a great class. I have two degrees in environmental science, so I’m very excited to teach it and I hope that students will become excited as well.”