Elkhart Central to graduate first Early College students

The Class of 2017 contains a group of students who will be graduating high school with a little something different: they are the first generation of students to participate in the Early College program. While participating in dual credit classes, the ultimate goal is for students to earn at least one year’s worth of college credits. Early College graduates earn a TGEC (Technical General Education Core Certificate). Participants who earn at least 30 college credits can graduate from Ivy Tech Community College and walk with Ivy Tech’s graduating class at the University of Notre Dame prior to graduating high school.

The Early College program is an initiative from the Horizon Education Alliance. This partnership allows students to earn college credits through Ivy Tech while they are still in high school. Mrs. Roberson, early college career counselor at Elkhart Central High school, works individually with these students to be sure they are on the right track and have the tools and support they need to excel in the program. She explains not every student has considered college as an option; with this program, these same students are now prepared to go to college and can expect to succeed.

Students in the Early College program earn college credits free of charge and get a “jump start” on college; the cohesiveness of the cohort model helps to promote a “college-going culture”; students have an opportunity to explore college and career goals and with smaller caseloads, the Early College counselor has more time to spend with each student. Currently, Elkhart Central High school has 209 students participating, the goal is to have no more than 50-60 students in each cohort.

Students are identified as potential participants in the Early College program during the first semester of 9th grade. There are several different factors counselors consider when reviewing students’ potential for success in the Early College program, including NWEA test scores, referrals, free/reduced lunch, attendance, teacher recommendations, participation in the Middle School Reaching Higher Program, ethnicity, and the students desire and commitment to being a part of the program.

Mrs. Roberson explains being part of the Early College program is a challenging but rewarding process. The students who are chosen to participate are expected to work hard in the classroom and obtain good grades; they are expected to be at school on time and on a regular basis; to stay in school for four years with the intent of obtaining a high school diploma and an Ivy Tech Community College Technical Certificate. Students are also expected to be a positive representative of the Early College program with their behavior and attitude.

Makayla Dirk, a senior at Elkhart Central High School has had a positive experience, “I didn’t start off with good grades, this program has given me a great opportunity and has prepared me for college.” Makayla now earns A’s and B’s in her classes, she feels the program has kept her on track and taught her how to deal with real issues. Makayla has chosen to attend the University of Indianapolis. Her plans are to major in Sociology and minor in Journalism. Makayla will be the first in her family to go to college. Her advice to incoming freshmen, “Take advantage of every opportunity you are offered, even though it may seem small, it is still worth something in the end.”

“They saw something in me I didn’t see in myself. If not for this program, I would not have the opportunities I have now.” Kaitlyn Curtis, also a senior at Elkhart Central, has been accepted into the University of Kentucky, where all of her Early College earned credits will transfer out of state. She will major in Equine Veterinary Service and minor in Equine Therapy. Participating in this program, she explains, has made her more respectful – she goes to school and gets to work. “When you realize how much work goes into the program, it gives you a new respect for the teachers and the effort they put into helping you succeed.” She also explains how the participants in the program support each other: when someone misses school they hold each other responsible, check on them, and encourage them to get back on track.

Kaitlyn explains how the program kept her focused, when distracted she always knew Mrs. Roberson’s door was open, “I have a very big support system in the guidance office and can visit whenever I need to.” Kaitlyn is very proud of her experience and is eager to share how this program makes Elkhart Community Schools stand out from other districts, noting “other schools don’t offer what we do and we wouldn’t have the same opportunities elsewhere.”

Part of the Early College program is assisting the parents through the college enrollment process and involving them with their students. Parent involvement is just as important to the program as the student’s eagerness to succeed. After students are identified as potential participants, both the parents and students meet with Mr. Serge, Elkhart Central High School’s principal, and Mrs. Roberson. At that time, the Early College program is explained to the parents and students along with an explanation of expectations. Parents and students are then given the opportunity to talk about the decision and what it means for their family, and decide if the student wants to participate. If both the parents and student are in agreement, they will both sign a commitment form. Communication with parents becomes vital to the program. If parents, students, teachers, and school personnel create a team – success is more likely to occur.

Dual credits earned by Early College students can be used at Ivy Tech Community College, but are also accepted at state colleges, many private colleges, and colleges or universities outside of the state. Students do not have to be a member of the Early College program to receive dual credits at Elkhart Community Schools. Dual credits are available to any student who can meet the testing criteria.

In the 2016 school year, Elkhart Community Schools saved families $360,309.90 in college tuition costs. To learn more about the Early College Program contact: Gail Draper, Early College/Dual Credit Supervisor at 574-295-4880 (Monday & Wednesday) or 574-262-5647 (Tuesday & Thursday) or email her at gdraper@elkhart.k12.in.us.