Over 80 ECS students graduating from Ivy Tech

For 81 seniors at Elkhart Central and Elkhart Memorial, the chance to walk in a graduation ceremony will come two weeks before they complete high school, as they walk across the stage at the University of Notre Dame as Ivy Tech Community College graduates.

These students will be receiving a Statewide General Education Core Certificate – STGEC – that is recognized by all state colleges as a 30-credit program, designed to help students attain general education college credits while still in high school.

The 81 students receiving this certificate come from different backgrounds, and have different future goals, but they are all thankful for the experience.

“I’m grateful I was selected for the Early College program, “says Elkhart Central senior Makayla Dirk. “I wasn’t the best student when I started high school. This program has really helped me turn my life around. My parents are incredibly proud. They recognize that college is expensive and this opportunity provides a year’s worth of college credits at no cost.”

With the cost of college rising every year – from $7,000 a year for an IUSB student living off campus to $42,000 a year for a Goshen College student living on campus, college credits earned in high school through this program are free for students and seen as a major opportunity to parents.

For Sam Coates, senior at Elkhart Central, his parents were thrilled at the financial benefit of completing general education college classes while Sam was in high school. For Sam, it’s not as much about cutting down his future time at college, “I still plan to attend college for four years. This experience will allow me the chance to explore more options and to take a lighter class load.”

For many students, the classes through Ivy Tech provide them with a first foot in the door to a collegiate academic setting.

Says Jennifer Zagal Nava, Elkhart Central senior, “The teachers for these classes are different than for our high school classes. We have to be more responsible for our own work and actions.”

It’s something that Elkhart Central senior Alexus Joiner echoes, “These classes are much more relaxed inside the classroom. There is more talking from the teacher, and we are expected to do our work outside the classroom. We have to manage our own time, so we can complete our class work.”

Much of the success of this program is credited to Gail Draper, the district’s Early College and Dual Credit program supervisor, as well as the Early College counselors, Summer Runyan at Elkhart Memorial and Regina Roberson at Elkhart Central. Their team works with students and parents to help educate them about the opportunity to earn college credits while in high school, and then helps them plan their classes.

“Educating students and parents, and communicating effectively with them at an early age is going to be a big goal for us moving forward,” says Draper. “We want to help parents start understanding while their child is in middle school, so we can best prepare them. The beauty of what we offer is that it’s available to any student in our high school, and it can apply to any future path.”

Speaking of future paths, for these four students, they are diverse paths, further supporting the idea that this program is truly for any student. Makayla plans to attend the University of Indianapolis and study sociology, Sam plans to attend Purdue University and study computer science, Jennifer plans to attend Goshen College on a full-ride scholarship and study nursing, and Alexus plans to attend Indiana University Bloomington and study fine arts.

But first – Ivy Tech graduation.

Makayla is excited about the Ivy Tech graduation, saying, “I’ve always dreamed about graduating, but I never imagined it would be from college first.” All four students are supported by very proud parents who are excited to see them walk across the stage.

And speaking of proud, as Gail Draper thinks and speaks about her students, her eyes fill with tears. “I’m so proud of all of them. I’ve gotten to know them, to see their struggles and victories. These are students I care about deeply. We have deep ties to these students, and we’re all looking forward to seeing where their futures take them in four or five years. It’s our hope that they will come back and speak to other students about this opportunity and their experience. But for now, I’m celebrating with them and their families, and really looking forward to watching them walk across the stage.”