POSTED: Tuesday, January 11, 2011 - 9:07pm
UPDATED: Wednesday, January 12, 2011 - 8:49am
PHARR - The Rio Grande Valley is working hard to up the number of students that attend and complete college after high school. That's why the Pharr-San Juan-Alamo Independent School District is pushing as early as ninth grade to take college level courses.
"I'm taking 18 credit courses, 18 hours, and it's gonna be history, chemistry, biology, and uh pre-calculus trigonometry," said Alyssa Medrano, T-STEM 11th grader.
And taking these college level course in high school also has benefits other than gaining extra education.
"There's no tuition for them to pay and so they get a chance to get some college hours under their belt at no cost to their families," said Dr. Daniel King, PSJA ISD Superintendent.
Medrano attends PSJA's T-STEM Early College High School. This School requires that students take these courses and requires that they attend college after graduation.
"It's somewhat of an incubator of what we all need to practice at every high school, so we are looking at T-STEM as being a model for us, for me as a principal, and how to get kids to go to college, college connected taking dual-enrollment classes starting in the summer of their ninth grade year. That's why it's so remarkable to be taking college level courses at the ninth grade level, so in the hopes by the time they graduate they will walk away with a high school diploma and an associates degree," said Nora Rivas Garza, Southwest High School Principal.
Many Upper Valley students, like those at Southwest High School, come from a disadvantaged background.
One hundred percent of the students are coming from an economically disadvantaged home. In fact, most of them speak English as a second language. That's why it is so remarkable to be taking college level courses at the ninth grade level. In hopes by the time they graduate they will walk away with a high school diploma and an associates degree.
Students said these courses really prepare them for what they want to do in terms of a career, instead of searching for that path after high school.
"I think I have grown from this experience, at the beginning I was a good student, but I think I have excelled a little bit more, I'm responsible more, I know when to ask for help, like before I was too shy, and like the college thing it's like if you don't as for help, they're not going to, it's different," said Medrano.
Medrano is only about 20 credit hours short of getting her Associates degree in biology. And she is just a junior! Head starts with college, like T-STEM, push students to move on and maybe even finish a Master's program in the same amount of time a student without high school college credit would get a Bachelor's.
If parents have questions, school officials urge them to contact their school principal or school counselor.