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For West Catholic High School (WCHS) students, their present is dynamic, their futures bright. At this college preparatory secondary school — located on a sprawling 42-acre campus in the northwest corner of Grand Rapids, Michigan — students gain more than just a rigorous and excellence-driven Catholic education. They get to move from high school to university and beyond — confidently.

Several programmes and initiatives ensure this distinctive — and effective — transition. The personal investment of the staff in the students’ experience is seen in each of them. “The teachers care about you and your education,” shares alumna Grace Misner.

Nancy Haskell, a mother of two WCHS students, recalls a time when faculty members had approached her to recommend a career in marketing for her daughter, Mariah. “They started describing some of her skill sets,” she shares. Haskell was blown away.

“They knew my daughter,” she enthuses. “They were listing her qualities and thinking about her future.

The futures they strive to achieve do not just comprise success; fulfilment is a priority. Faculty members accomplish this by providing an education that is challenging, exciting, and filled with joy.

At WCHS, students can take year-long Advanced Placement courses — 19 AP courses are offered — for which they demonstrate their knowledge through an AP exam taken at the end of the year. Those who pass receive credit for high school, as well as credit for thousands of colleges and universities that participate in the Advanced Placement Programme.

For Nicolo Micheletti from Italy, a Class of 2021 graduate, these courses were transformative. “AP Calculus completely changed my way of seeing math,” Micheletti enthuses. “I learned a lot of things: new formulas, new materials and new approaches. I think this course really prepared me for more advanced learning in college. We don’t have anything like it in Italy, so I’m really happy I attended this course this year.”

A foot in the door

With WCHS, ambitious students can hit the ground running once they’re in college. The school offers four courses taught by a university professor on its campus. These students are considered enrolled at both the high school and the university — in other words, “dual-enrolled.” Any credits earned can be transferred to their university of choice upon graduation.

West Catholic High School

Over 85% of students at WCHS are involved in athletics, extracurricular clubs or organisations. Source: West Catholic High School

An initiative with Kent Career Technical Centre (KCTC) offers another head start. Here, students can spend part of their school day at the local technical centre, which provides quality training in more than 30 careers and technical programmes. They can earn university credit, receive certifications, and participate in internships, apprenticeships, and technical training programmes — all while they are still in high school.

Almost all aspirations are covered by the two-year programme, including medicine. Julie Nguyen an international student from Vietnam, confirms this. With aspirations to become a doctor, the KCTC programme is just what she needed. Here, she will learn foundational skills most would have to wait until college to gain.

“You can experience how they work in the emergency rooms and how they react,” she explains. “You get to do it in real life so when you are in that situation one day, you know what you need to do to save a life. In Vietnam, we usually learn from books without the chance to conduct experiments and spend time in labs, so it’s really great.”

Much like Nguyen, the majority of students at WCHS are enhancing their experience by getting involved in athletics as well as extracurricular clubs and organisations. For aspiring athletes, the school offers programmes in cross country, equestrian, football, tennis, competitive cheer, e-sports, ice hockey, lacrosse and more.

On the field, track or court, they learn valuable skills that will help them develop into leaders. “Sports have taught me time management, and how important health and wellness is,” says student, Elizabeth Pope.

The theme of leadership persists for the school’s most creative, through a suite of programmes in performing arts and visual arts. These include lessons in music, choir, theatre, drawing, graphic design, photography, and portfolio preparation. “Marching band and theatre have helped me stretch my leadership skills and creativity far beyond where I thought they could go,” enthuses student Tessa Reeves.

West Catholic High School

This school annually offers four courses taught by a university professor on campus grounds. Source: West Catholic High School

Add a programme that assists in the college application and admittance process, and international students like Nguyen have the complete preparation and support to attend universities in the US.

The WCHS approach to education is effective, as proven by stellar numbers. More than 60% leave high school with college credits. Last year alone, there were 342 AP exams taken by students here. The class of 2020 had 96% of its graduates attend college.

Recent international graduates have gone on to attend top universities in the US, Europe and Asia. These include New York University, Purdue University, Rhode Island School of Design, Institut Químic de Sarrià (Spain) and Chulalongkorn University (Thailand).

To get a running start to university and life, learn more about West Catholic High School

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