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Twenty-Nine ECHS Seniors Earn College Degree Before High School Diploma

Wednesday, May 1, 2013
By Eladio Jaimez

ECHS GradsOn her dry erase board in her office, Clarissa De La Fuente has a simple message in large print: “Congratulations!”

Indeed congratulations are in order for De La Fuente, Texas State Technical College’s Director of Dual Enrollment, and students, faculty and administration from Early College High School.

At last week’s TSTC commencement, 29 seniors from ECHS graduated with either an Associate’s Degree or completion of their academic core nearly an entire month before receiving their high school diplomas. Some, like Bobby Palmos, even graduated with the distinction of Board of Regents Scholar. This honor is given to students who graduate with a 4.0 Grade Point Average (GPA).

That number has increased since the first graduating class in 2011. That year 18 ECHS seniors walked the stage as TSTC graduates. Last year it was 24.

And after a recent audit of current ECHS juniors, it’s projected that 90 percent of 67 seniors next year will graduate from TSTC in the spring.

De La Fuente said entering ECHS freshmen are encouraged to sign up for one of the many programs at TSTC but aren’t’ required to choose immediately.

“As long as they know by the end of their sophomore year, they can still get into one of our programs,” De La Fuente said.

Most programs are open to ECHS students with the exception of some in the Allied Health field. Most students also choose to only complete their academic core, which equals to between 48-53 college hours.

De la Fuente said ECHS graduates going on to college hold an advantage over other entering freshmen at that level.

“An ECHS student has higher expectations,” De La Fuente said. “Not only are they already juniors when they get to college, but most of them act like it too. They’re not entering freshmen and we remind them. Once they start going to ECHS and they come to my office, that’s the way we treat them, like college students. Yes, we guide them but we don’t hold their hands. They’re already college students in a college setting.”

Students from ECHS are unique to other dual enrollment students from Harlingen High School or Harlingen South High School because ECHS students can start taking college courses as freshmen. Other public school students traditionally wait until their junior year to begin. Exceptions are made on occasion and some are allowed to start as sophomores but never as freshmen. Since ECHS is specially designated by the state to make its students college ready, those students can start as freshmen.

ECHS Principal Angel Paxton said there’s a laundry list of advantages to attending ECHS and enrolling in the dual enrollment program.

When a student graduates from ECHS, they start college as juniors so financially it’s a huge relief for families, Paxton said.

“But they also get the experience of advocating for themselves,” Paxton said. “They learn how to schedule their classes and resolve conflict. They learn to work as a team with other college students. They even discuss what professors they like better and advice each other on who to take for certain classes.”

Paxton said ECHS students get the full college experience during the day but also get to go home at the end to their comfort zone.

“A lot of college freshmen usually get lost in the system and many return home,” Paxton said. “We’re very small and top out at 400 students (at ECHS). Our counselors know every student by name and we’re all very hands on in every aspect. Since (TSTC President) Dr. (Cesar) Maldonado took over, TSTC has been very supportive of our students. From Clarissa to the TSTC police, everyone does their part to help our students succeed.”

For more information on the Dual Enrollment program at TSTC, go to http://www.tstc.edu/harlingende.











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