Nine students from Taft High School in Woodland Hills who won the state Academic Decathlon on Sunday, March 19th, are also Santa Monica College (SMC) students.

They are in the college dual enrollment program, which offers college courses to approximately 1,500 students from 30 high schools throughout the Los Angeles area.

“SMC’s dual enrollment program is a great source of pride at Taft,” said Arthur Berchin, a Taft High School English teacher.

Berchin has led the school decathlon team to two national championships and several state championships.

The Taft team is now preparing for the U.S. Academic Decathlon, which will be held Thursday and Friday, April 27th and 28th, in San Antonio, Texas.

Taft will compete against more than 40 other high school teams from all over the country.

“By having the dual enrollment program, we have done something that no other high school to our knowledge has done — provide students their first two years of college English by the time they graduate from Taft,” Berchin said.

The college’s dual enrollment program works with each high school to meet that school’s needs.

In the case of Taft, the program offers four semesters of college English, beginning with freshman English and moving into advanced composition and U.S. ethnic literature.

Students in Taft’s Individualized Honors Program begin dual enrollment courses their junior year of high school after receiving English assessment tests administered by the college.

Berchin said dual enrollment has an advantage over the traditional high school Advanced Placement program because not all universities will give college credit to students who have passed placement tests.

Dual enrollment students receive high school and college credit, and the English course credits are transferable to four-year universities.

About 65 percent of the college dual enrollment courses are in the arts, such as drama, dance, music, and visual art, because financially strapped high schools have dropped their arts programs, said John Gonzalez, Santa Monica College dean of academic affairs.

Non-arts courses such as psychology, speech, and sociology, which are not typically offered in high schools, are also found in the dual enrollment program.

Berchin said his decathlon team has an edge over the competition because the dual enrollment classes they take are “more rigorous.”

The college dual enrollment program has been at Taft for three years.