Back in August of 2021, a group of 13 students embarked into uncharted territory.
They entered Milpitas Middle College High School (MMCHS), an innovative program run by the Milpitas Unified School District (MUSD) that allows students to take college courses while pursuing their high school diploma at the same time.
Two years later, the group of students, which had steadily grown from 13 to 19, were all a part of something truly historic in Milpitas: they were the inaugural graduating class of MMCHS. They graduated in front of an excited crowd of friends, family, and community members on June 9.
“I’m excited for the kids. And I’m just so proud of them,” said MMCHS Principal Karisa Scott in an interview with The Beat.
MMCHS is located at the Milpitas Extension on Escuela Blvd., right across the street from Milpitas High School. Created in partnership between MUSD and the San José Evergreen Community College District (SJECCD), the site is an extension of San José City College.
Along with MMCHS, the Milpitas Extension offers dual enrollment and concurrent enrollment to high school students who want to get a jump on college courses. The site also hosts various programs, like Math Jams, and has teamed up with other organizations to hold community events.
Two years ago, when the middle college high school officially started in Milpitas, the outlook wasn’t certain.
“I honestly didn’t know if we could pull this thing off,” Scott told The Beat. “We were coming right out of Covid that first year. And we had one teacher. But 13 students were willing to try it, to risk it.”
All of the students (who were all juniors) came from Milpitas High School (MHS) except for one, who was from Cal Hills.
Maria Denise Cuenca, one of the students who was part of the inaugural graduating class, felt that being a part of MMCHS created a tremendous shift for her academically. While attending classes at MHS, Cuenca was struggling, with a GPA of 2.0. However, making the change to middle college in her junior year brought her GPA way up. In fact, in her last semester at MMCHS, she ended it with a 4.0.
“There was also a big change in me socially,” Cuenca shared with The Beat. “I was mostly soft-spoken as a child but being at the middle college, my public speaking has improved tremendously.”
Having access to a more intimate environment has given students at the middle college an opportunity to thrive. They were also able to individualize their course selections based upon their own interests and passions. Along with having free college tuition, students who are part of the middle college also get access to free textbooks.
Another amazing benefit of attending Milpitas’ middle college is that since students are able to earn 60 college credits, they can actually transfer to college as a college junior, just after graduating from high school!
During the school year, Scott would take MMCHS students and head over to both Milpitas High and Cal Hills to give presentations to various classes, speaking to them about all the benefits of attending middle college.
“We wanted students to know they have the option of being in a smaller environment and having access to an early college opportunity,” Scott said.
Along with taking college courses, there’s also a focus on community at the school. MMCHS students each work on a community impact project, where they select something they want to change in society. Over the next two years, they research their topic and come up with local solutions that they then take action on.
After receiving a grant, the MMCHS was able to welcome in a second teacher in 2022, which allowed for them to have two different cohorts.
For the 2024-2025 school year, they hope to expand to 100 students, with several different cohorts.
Students who graduated from the inaugural class are heading down a new road: some of them are taking off to places like UC Berkeley, UC Santa Cruz, and Santa Clara University.
“All of these students blew my expectations out of the water in terms of what they were able to accomplish in these last two years,” Scott said.
Editor’s Note: The Beat wants to make mention of Maria Denise Cuenca, who was quoted in this article. When Maria Denise started attending school at MMCHS, she reached out to The Beat and asked if she could intern with us. We said “Yes,” and we’re so happy that we did. That was nearly two years ago. In that time, Maria Denise has grown tremendously and accomplished a great deal. She was recently hired as an employee for The Beat and continues to write articles for us. We wish her and the rest of her graduating class all the best in their future endeavors.