Editor’s note: This guest essay is part of Education Lab’s Student Voices program. Read more columns by local students here.

I thought I knew how to write. That’s why, as a high school junior taking an introductory English course at a community college through Running Start, I initially spent most days half listening, half doodling. I knew English would be important in my career as a librarian, but I was a cocky teenager, ready to drown out lessons about introductions and conclusions. I had heard this in every English class. I knew how to write an essay.

Then the professor introduced the idea of movement. I looked up and made eye contact, abandoning my doodles. I learned something new. 

There are two types of movement, he stated: horizontal and vertical. Say in a story, Sally reaches for an apple; she gets the apple; she eats the apple. This is horizontal movement. It is the main plot of the book, how high school taught me to write. First this happens, then that. Vertical movement occurs when one moves forward or back in time. For example, if Sally remembered picking apples with her grandmother or if the author said: Years later, Sally still remembers this day.

This concept blew my mind. I had never learned anything like it before. While I always used it, no one had taught it to me explicitly, or put a name to it. Ultimately, because of this new understanding and my enjoyment using it, this course pushed me to pursue writing, an option I had never considered before.

Running Start is a dual-enrollment program in Washington that lets 11th- and 12th-grade students take classes at community colleges for high school and college credit. During the 2018-2019 school year, over 29,000 Washington students participated, according to a report by the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction.

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For many, including myself, Running Start provides a way to earn college credits at an extremely reduced cost since tuition is paid for through taxes. Students who qualify for free or reduced lunch get even more help with costs. Like nearly 44% of Washington’s students receiving lunch subsidies last school year, I qualified for free lunch. However, for some students in dual enrollment programs, this still might not be enough. 

A recent state report about the program found the enrollment of low-income students in programs that allow them to earn college credits in high school is still low, with cost being the main barrier. I was lucky because I only paid for the gas I needed to get to classes. Taxes and other resources took care of all the costs involved. My tuition and fees were waived and, because of my free lunch status, I could borrow books from the college library instead of buying them. I was astonished that more low-income students weren’t taking advantage of this opportunity. Now I know it is because they can’t. Other school districts do not have the resources I received, and not all dual-enrollment programs work the same way.

Chris Reykdal, state schools chief, has proposed a bill that would make all dual-credit coursework free for all high school students by 2023. I support him. Not only would it remove barriers, a principle outlined in Running Start law. It would also give low-income students like me a chance to get ahead and save on college.

According to a six-year national study the Community College Research Center published in 2017, 88% of dual-enrollment students continued to college within two years of graduation. This means over 25,000 of the 29,000 students who participated in Running Start in 2019 could continue to college within two years of high school.

Running Start provided an opportunity for learning unavailable at high school. The classes excited me. I learned about the world and myself. I always knew I would go to college, but Running Start gave me the necessary rigor and confidence.

That introductory English course changed my career. I came in knowing I wanted to be a librarian and left with an interest in writing. I went from a English literature major to an English creative writing and journalism double major ready to write. Running Start was the best decision I’ve made in my life so far.