At 14 years old, Kaneshia Lawler has a clear vision for her future. She wants to be a gynecologist and because that goal will require about 10 years of post-secondary education, she decided to get a head start.
Miss Lawler is one of 53 members of the first class of Chapel Hill Collegiate, an early college high school operating within Chapel Hill High School.
Although the students will attend the regular Chapel Hill High School campus, a portion of their day will be spent in an area reserved solely for the Chapel Hill Collegiate students.
The students will take those classes, likely their core subjects together, then mix with the rest of the high school population for lunch, electives and extracurricular activities.
Some of their courses will be college-level and count for high school and college credit simultaneously.
Per state requirement of Early College High Schools, the program is free for students. TJC has waived the tuition and fees and Chapel Hill ISD is covering the cost of textbooks and any other supplies.
The goal of the program is for the students to earn an associate’s degree by the time they graduate from high school.
Chapel Hill Collegiate Administrator Karen Bender, who is an assistant principal for the regular high school, said research shows that if students earn 50- to 55-college credit hours, they are more likely to finish a four-year degree.
There are institutions that will readily admit these students and, in some cases, pay for their second two years of undergraduate education, Ms. Bender said.
LEARNING THE ROPES
The inaugural Chapel Hill Collegiate class participated in a Boot Camp last week. The students spent Monday, Wednesday and Thursday on the Chapel Hill High School campus. They visited the Tyler Junior College campus on Tuesday.
The purpose of the camp was to prepare them to excel as college students. Covered topics included skills such as critical thinking, flexible strategies, creative thinking and problem solving, Ms. Bender said. The leaders also worked to teach the students soft skills that they will need in high school and college.
“This is part of their orientation to college life,” she said.
Activities included SAT prep, sessions about learning styles, community service, critical thinking, communication and habits of highly effective teens. Students also spent time journaling.
At the high school on Wednesday, the students participated in a variety of activities designed to build their critical thinking, communication and teamwork skills.
One exercise had the students in groups of eight or nine lined up and wandering around one side of the gym as they looked for squeaky dog toys, but talking was not allowed.
The last person in each line of team members was the only person who could see. The rest had blindfolds covering their eyes. This meant the students had to use a nonverbal communication method they came up with to work together to pick up their assigned squeaky toys and put them in a bucket.
Chapel Hill Collegiate counselor Shielda Divine, who is a testing coordinator for the regular high school, said the goal was for students to learn the importance of following directions as well as the process of how to evaluate and assess situations and people.
The participating students come from different backgrounds, but all shared similar reasons for wanting to participate in the early college program.
“I thought it would help me considering how much (college) tuition is,” Avah Garcia, 14, a freshman, said.
Miss Garcia, like many of her peers, will be the first person in her family to go to college, and said this will help her as she prepares for the future.
Alex Burch, 14, said he wanted to be part of the program because of the challenge. He wants to be a mechanical engineer and said this program will help him achieve that goal.
Miss Lawler said part of the reason she wants to be in this program is to set an example for her four younger siblings.
“I actually feel very thankful … to be part of this program,” she said.
Ms. Bender said she only expects the program to grow “because of the tremendous response to this very first year.”
Almost 140 students applied to be in the first class with only 53 accepted. Next year, Chapel Hill Collegiate will add another class of freshman as this year’s class moves up to sophomore year.
Eventually, the program could have up to 350 students, a subset that will make up almost one-third of the high school population.
“As it grows, we’re hoping that (the) community will see value in what’s going on because as we grow, (the) campus will have to (grow),” Ms. Bender said.