Austin American Statesman: Early College High School allows students to change their future
As the school year shifts into full gear, students in Round Rock’s first early college high school are settling in to start achieving their goals.
Freshmen students in Early College High School began their high school experience Aug. 23 not on a high school campus, but on a college campus. The Round Rock school district submitted an application for an early college high school to the Texas Education Agency in December and received approval this spring.
The district is partnering with Austin Community College, which has helped coordinate early college high school programs in several Central Texas districts. The new high school program is located at ACC’s Round Rock campus at 4400 College Park Dr.
The program allows students the opportunity to earn up to 60 college credit hours toward a bachelor’s degree at no cost. Students will complete their freshman and sophomore years of high school within Round Rock school district facilities at ACC and slowly integrate dual credit courses. Junior- and senior-year classes will be held exclusively at the community college campus with access to academic and social counseling.
Sports, band and other UIL activities are not offered at the high school, and some students will leave their friend group behind to attend the school of choice. However, students attending the new school believe the benefits outweigh the cons. Sierra Kaminski, a freshman at Early College High School, said attending the new school is a great opportunity.
“No matter how many cons about it there are, the opportunity to get your associate (degree) before anyone else when you’re 18, and the opportunity to get that alongside with your diploma is one of the best things you can ever do for yourself and for your children and your grandchildren,” she said.
Kaminski recently moved to Round Rock from Colorado, where she planned to attend a similar early college program. The freshman hopes to become an astrophysicist and intends to get her associate degree in science upon graduating. She plans to earn her bachelor’s degree and pursue a master’s degree and doctorate in the future.
Although Kaminski will be missing out on participating in track and field sports that she wanted to do in high school, she is alright with giving that up to be able to earn her associate degree. “This is going to change my entire future and I am so ready for that to happen, and I will personally do anything for that to happen,” she said
Principal Clarissa Rodriguez said students at the new school are motivated in their pursuit of higher education.
“We understand that they’re sort of giving up that traditional high school environment to look to the future and see the benefits now as a 14-year-old, which is not an easy thing to do,” she said. “We really take that into account and try to make this a happy and safe and supportive environment.”
Rodriguez said students experienced the college environment right away as teachers conducted the first few weeks of classes in ACC and Texas State University Round Rock campus classrooms. Weather issues created delays in getting the district’s facilities ready, she said.
Now students and staff have moved into their portable village comprised of seven portable buildings on ACC’s campus, and there is a family atmosphere where “everybody knows your name,” Rodriguez said.
There are eight teachers and 112 students, she said. The program can hold up to 125 students. Rodriguez said interested families are inquiring about joining every day. The new school provides a more close-knit community that some students need to be successful, she said. “I think that this is really the answer for students who find themselves lost in that larger high school environment,” Rodriguez said. “There’s pros and cons but overall I really admire (the students) for what they bring to the program.”