Early college, endorsement programs enhance Texas high school options

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As an eighth grader at Clint Middle School, 13-year-old BobbiAnn Owen decided she would apply to an early college program that is part of Clint High School that allows students to obtain an associate’s degree by the time they graduate from 12th grade.

She was delighted when she made the cut. She was one of 70 students accepted to the selective and demanding program out of 159 applicants. Clint school district has 2,907 high school students and all the benefit of applying for Clint Early College Academy before their freshman year.

BobbiAnn now, half a year into the program, is making personal sacrifices to excel and remain in the program. “I’ve had to learn to control my stress and my time. I have also lost many of the friends I grew up with.”

Bobbi Ann’s mother, Audra Tellez Owen, 34, works for Texas Rep. Mary E. Gonzales as a constituent service coordinator. While Tellez Owen is busy helping out the community, she is also a single mother to BobbieAnn and her sister Melena,12.

“I was very proud of BobbiAnn when she decided to come to me and tell me she wanted to apply for the early college. I am seeing her enjoy high school with an added twist,” Tellez Owen said. “I see the rigorous curriculum she has day in and day out with the amount of homework and the late-night studying, her little minor break downs and sometimes wanting to quit, but quitting is not an option for her.”

BobbiAnn is one of thousands of high school students in the region that are taking advantage of various early college programs cropping up in school districts such as El Paso, Canutillo, Ysleta, Clint and Fabens.

In 2013, the state of Texas recognized the importance of preparing high school students for college by mandating that all school districts adopt the Foundation Program that requires students to specialize in certain fields like, STEM, Business and Industry, Public Services, Arts and Humanities and Multidisciplinary. In some cases they can receive college credit for some of the coursework.

The Foundation Program plans give the students an endorsement and a distinguished level of achievement on their transcript making them eligible to enroll in any Texas university. It also cuts down the number of tests from 15 to 5 that are required to be passed in order to graduate. The basis of the plan is to put students on a path that will help these teens succeed in the future whether or not they decide to go to a four-year college.

As of 2014, all Texas schools were required to phase in the Foundation Program at the freshman level. In 2015, the program was expanded to all freshman and sophomores. In two more years, all levels of high school students will be participating in the program.

The Foundation Program is a completely different program from early colleges. This plan is required for every student. Each student must pick one of the plans offered, which then sets a list of courses that are to be taken throughout their high school years. The plan also offers enhancement levels to the program. The distinguished level of achievement must be earned in order for a student to be admitted to a Texas public university under the top 10 percent automatic admission law. The performance acknowledgment enhancement lets students earn dual credit courses and license or certifications.

Ramon Sanches, 15, a freshman at Clint high school chose business and industry as his endorsement when he registered for his freshman year. He said he hopes to run his own business someday – a restaurant. After graduation, he plans to attend a university and play basketball, but he is also interested in criminal justice.

Some educators, like Clint PE and Health teacher, Maria Elena Mesquita, worry that students may not be prepared to make a career choice so early.

“I personally believe its hard to ask a teenager what they want to do with their lives at such a young age. It adds unneeded stress to them,” said Mesquita, who also serves as a college transition officer .

Elizabeth Pasillas, a counselor at Mountain View High School said that students need strong guidance to help them choose tracks where they will get the most out of their endorsement.

“I think the foundation plan with endorsements could be a very good plan if you have a strong teachers and strong routes. Most students are not focused on college-ready courses or what will expose them to a promising career, most students seem to usually be thinking about what is fun.”

Early college high schools began surfacing in 2002. In El Paso there are seven early college high schools. Early colleges are small schools developed in partnership between school districts and colleges. They provide students with the opportunity to graduate high school with a year or more of college credit earned or even an associate’s degree.

BobbiAnn is experiencing college life. She has a college schedule where she attends different classes on Mondays Wednesday and Fridays and another different set on Tuesdays and Thursdays. So far, Tellez Owen has received BobbiAnn’s first report card and she made all A’s and two B’s.

“What I like about the early college so far is I get to meet new people, experience what it’s like being a college student and I get to graduate with my high school diploma and associates degree in 2019.”

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