An Early College High School (ECHS) has received funding in the amount of $349,000 from the New Mexico Public Education Department for a planning year. The funds will be utilized to hire four staff (a principal, administrative assistant, counselor and college liaison), as well as providing professional development and deploying a student recruitment process.
“We are thrilled to provide this tremendous opportunity to the youth in this county,” Dr. Toni Hopper Pendergrass, president of San Juan College, said. “Students enrolling in the Early College High School will have the benefit of gaining a college degree or certificate at the same time they earn their high school diploma, and will be well on their way to beginning a career or acquiring a four-year degree.”
The ECHS has been the vision of the Four Corners Education Council for Student Success (4CECSS), which consists of representative from Aztec Municipal Schools, Bloomfield Municipal Schools, Farmington Municipal School and San Juan College.
“We are very excited about receiving the Early College High School grant,” Kirk Carpenter, superintendent of Aztec Municipal Schools, said. “It is evidence of what hard work and collaboration can do to better advance educational opportunities for students in the Aztec, Bloomfield and Farmington school districts. This is what is right for students.”
After four years in the program, students will graduate with a high school diploma and a college degree at the same time. The ECHS will focus on career pathways in three career clusters: Business Services, Health and Biosciences; and Energy and Environmental Technologies. There are many degree options under the career clusters including teacher prep and general education under Business Services.
The ECHS will be offered at no cost to the student or parents. Students would have the opportunity to complete the first two years of college, leaving 100-percent of potential financial aid available for use at a four-year university.
While many of the logistics of the ECHS will be finalized during the planning year, current plans are to house the ECHS on the San Juan College Farmington campus with 20 students from Farmington Municipal Schools, 10 students from Aztec Municipal Schools and 10 students from Bloomfield Municipal Schools during the inaugural year. After four years, the ECHS hopes to be fully enrolled at 160 total students ranging from freshmen to seniors.
Nationally, Early College High Schools have seen success and have been identified as a best practice increasing graduation rates (90% nationally). They have also been proven as a strong pipeline from high schools to colleges and career readiness. The ECHS will provide a solid academic foundation for students wishing to transfer to a four-year university but will also provide the community with a work-ready job force to fill employment needs immediately upon graduation from the ECHS.
“Everyone at 4CECSS believes that this is a proven strategy to increase graduation rates and to prepare students for a bachelor’s degree or their career,” Dr. Pendergrass said. “Through the Dual Credit program at San Juan College, we had 8 students receive their college diplomas before they graduated high school this past May. To be able to offer that opportunity to 40 students a year, is an accomplishment we are all looking forward to.”
Dr. Pendergrass would like to thank the superintendents from each participating High School, Kirk Carpenter of Aztec, Eugene Schmidt of Farmington and Dr. Kim Mizell of Bloomfield; as well as Janet Hunter, Director of Secondary Curriculum and Instruction at Farmington Municipal Schools, Laurie Gruel, Senior Director for Institutional Strategic Planning and Grants at San Juan College, Dr. Barbara Ake, San Juan College Vice President of Learning, and Melissa Meechan, San Juan College Projects Assistant, for their work in securing this grant.