On a brisk fall day in 2018, Christopher Columbus—an Italian explorer; steward of three sailing vessels called the Niña, Pinta and Santa María; and, according to the common accounting of history, the first European to “discover” America—was standing trial in a classroom in Richfield, Minnesota. From a legal standpoint, things were not looking good for Columbus.
This mock trial is among the many interactive lessons included in HIST 1307, one of the 12 College in the Schools (CIS) courses offered for students at Richfield High School. Unlike Advanced Placement (AP) and other PSEO courses (also offered at RHS), College in the Schools classes don’t require students to pass a test at the end of the year or leave campus during the school day to receive college credit. CIS is unique because it exposes young people to college-level coursework from the convenience of their own high school, in the company of their peers and taught by their own high school teachers.
The Columbus post-trial discussion was vivacious, personal, and mostly led by students. The class wrestled with questions foundational to understanding our past: Who writes history? What agenda lies behind the “accepted” story? And whose perspectives have been written out of the narrative we collectively remember?
“Students build skills for thinking in a historical sense, interpret policies and events happening today, and apply their own judgment,” says Chris Peterson, the teacher for both CIS history courses offered at RHS. Classes like Peterson’s HIST 1307 help prepare students with skills in critical thinking, rigorous argumentation, studying and more.
“When we first started, we were talking about how the Americas came to be,” says Diego Luis Niquio, describing HIST 1307, the first CIS course he took. Diego Luis is one of the approximately 200 RHS students who register for CIS each year. “I loved it.”
Diego Luis would go on to take HIST 1308, which tackles post-reconstruction American history, as well as many other CIS courses. Those include political science, macroeconomics, and physics. “I was able to learn, but on an accelerated level,” he says, “which prepared me for college.”
In the 2018-19 school year alone, students registered for 608 periods of CIS coursework. Those students earned more than 2,000 college credits. At the University of Minnesota, the value of all those credits totals up to $1,099,927.50.
Diego Luis graduated from Richfield High School in 2019 with 18 college credits under his belt. Now an undergraduate at the University of Minnesota - Twin Cities, he is well ahead of his classmates. After finishing his generals as a freshman, he’ll start work toward his major next year as a sophomore. He has been accepted into the U of M College of Design to study architecture. In addition to providing an opportunity to argue with Christopher Columbus, CIS gave Diego Luis a jumpstart on his dreams.