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Saratoga--One glance across the classroom tells the story of what kind of high school student enrolls in the Middle College program at West Valley College. Even though Room 8 of the Science and Math building sits right in the middle of the West Valley College campus, the human geography of the classroom follows predictable secondary school trends: denser and noisier toward the back two rows, quieter along the sides where it's easiest to disappear, and motionless in front, where earnest gazes and good posture prevail. The age-old social map of a high school classroom.

Oh. So they're not all precocious eggheads and studious Model-UN-types discussing calculus problems during break. Regular kids.

The new Middle College program gives 14 juniors and nine seniors from Campbell Union and the Los Gatos-Saratoga high school districts the opportunity to finish their studies in a college environment.

In the mornings, students take a counseling course "to acquaint them with handling themselves in an independent environment," explains program director Barbara Hayslip. The course, designed to explore career possibilities in depth, suggests great seriousness on the part of the students.

But as they sit, squirm and chatter in the classroom where their required high-school English and history classes are held, suffering questions by a reporter, they prove themselves bright and confident but by no means extraordinarily focused. Or exceptionally bookish--three raise their hands when straight-A students were asked to identify themselves.

Hayslip doesn't claim that these are wunderkinds who are bored out of their skulls by a flabby high school curriculum. She focuses instead on their "independence"--which seems intimately related to their social skills.

"They're independent and find it more comfortable to learn in a college type of environment," she says. "They're bright students who believe they will perform better in this environment."

About 10 of the students claim to know what courses they want out of this college thing--psychology, international business, computer engineering. More than half are taking college-level math or science courses, and many of the others are taking fine arts courses in the morning when they're not in counseling, English or history.

Asked what prompted them to embark in the lengthy application and interview process leading to a position in the program, they respond with explanations ranging from the flippant to the world-weary.

"My dad said if I went to college I'd get a new car," says junior Shaun Galanos while the others laugh. "But it's not just that. I like this a lot better than high school." He reports that the old man made good on his promise, and these days Galanos the Younger can be seen about town in a 1998 Volkswagen Jetta.

Senior Krissy Archer raises her hand. "I've been to 26 schools," she says unhappily, and "and I'm using this for leverage with my mom so I can stay here."

"High school is a waste of time," announces Praveena Salvaduray, a junior. "All the drama about who's going to prom ... you don't even learn anything there. I wanted to take the social thing out of school." "The reason I came was the maturity," opines a no-nonsense Lisa Benavides, now in her junior year. "I like adults better. A lot of my friends are 20."

"Mine too," Salvaduray chimes in.

A voice crying in the wilderness, Michael Greenstein reveals that high school just wasn't challenging enough. "They weren't offering any computer courses I hadn't already taken," he says quietly from his place in the front row. "And the environment's more comfortable here, even though there's more smoking, and I don't really like cigarette smoke." Greenstein is taking intro to Java this semester.

A cross-section of people doing something for different reasons. Just like in real life.
Traci Hukill

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