LCSN: School offers teens early shot at college

July 6, 2010. Retrieved online July 7, 2010 from Christine Rogel, Las Cruces Sun-News

Joel Macias, 13, works on a class project Tuesday on the first day of LCPS' early college high school at the Do a Ana Community College. By attending the school, students can earn an associate's degree and credit toward a bachelor's degree while graduating with a high school diploma. (Norm Dettlaff/ Sun-News)

LAS CRUCES — Samantha Varela wants to be either an FBI agent or pediatrician, but as a soon-to-be freshman at Mayfield High School, she recognizes she has a long way to go.

“I wanted to get a head start in college and I want to get a good job and have a good future,” she said.

Varela is one of 116 high school freshmen enrolled in New Mexico’s first-ever early college high school, which allows students to graduate with a high school diploma while earning a college associate’s degree or credits toward a bachelor’s degree.

Students take classes in science, technology, engineering, physical education and mathematics and there’s an emphasis on entrepreneurship and career and technical education courses.

“You’re two years ahead of everybody else,” student Amarina Brown said. “Sometimes in class you get distracted by other people and this program is a good thing because you’re selected and you have to be hardworking to be here, so there is no fooling around and you get your work done.”

Reducing dropout rate

ECHS aims to reduce the dropout rate in the district by engaging students early in the college process and by offering small class sizes and real-world applications in coursework, officials said. Other states with ECHS programs have successfully retained students, said Jennifer Amis, the ECHS principal.

“This model, the early college high school, emerged as a best practice for graduating over 90 percent of their cohort, which is incredible,” Amis said.

Different from dual credit

ECHS differs from LCPS’ dual-credit program, which allows high school juniors and seniors to attend New Mexico State University and Doña Ana Community College classes tuition-free, because ECHS students can start earning credit as freshmen.

Additionally, ECHS allows students to replace high school core requirements with college-level classes, something the dual-credit program does not allow, Amis said.

Classes will be on the main campus at DACC. A permanent building, paid for by state funds, will open next summer at Arrowhead Research Park on New Mexico State University’s campus.

“At the end of the day, they have an opportunity to be on a college campus and fully realize what that venue is versus a regular traditional high school campus,” said Ricky Williams, the new director of secondary instruction for LCPS. “It’s going to breed some great possibilities for these kids.”

As students enroll, they bring with them state funding under the state equalization guarantee, which ensures that revenues are at least equal to the program’s cost, said Steven Sanchez, LCPS associate superintendent. Salaries for the four teachers, a counselor, the registrar and the principal are currently the only expenses.

The number of ECHS staff will grow as the enrollment adds another grade of students each year. Within four years, the ECHS will be home to 500 students in grades nine through 12.

Read the Las Cruces Sun-News article.

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