Dual-credit program offers La Porte students double opportunity

May 9, 2019

As high school seniors throughout the area anticipate graduation, some La Porte High School students are preparing to walk across two stages — one for their high school diploma and another for their college associate’s degree.

The Accelerated College Education program, which began in La Porte ISD in 2015 in conjunction with San Jacinto Community College, allows students beginning in the 11th grade to complete enough college credits to get the associate’s degree when they finish high school, said Linda Wadleigh, the school district’s deputy superintendent over curriculum and instruction.

To be eligible, students need to be in a position to take Algebra 2 their sophomore year and pass with at least an 80, and they have to live inside the district’s boundaries. Other factors are considered as well, such as attendance and academic background, and each student is evaluated to determine whether administrators believe that individual can handle a college course load while attending high school. The students are required to adhere to San Jac’s standards for admission, such as GPA, applications and standardized tests such as the SAT or the ACT.

“These are genuine college courses held at San Jac,” La Porte High School Principal Carlin Grammer said. “There isn’t any hand holding there. The students who participate in this course spend part of their day at San Jac and the other part of their day at the high school, and the college professors treat them like college students; so we want to make sure the kids we pick for the program are capable of managing the course work. We don’t want to push anyone into this before they’re ready.”

Grammer and Wadleigh both stressed the importance of getting kids on track to take Algebra 2 early in their school careers if the ACE program is something parents think their kids might want to consider.

Wadleigh said San Jac has worked with other state colleges to ensure that courses taken under the ACE program will transfer to those institutions as usable credits.

“The last thing we, or San Jac, would want is for one of our kids to take two years of college courses and then not have them be able to transfer those courses to, say, (Texas A&M) or University of Texas,” she said. “So, San Jac has worked hard to very carefully evaluate the curriculum to make sure the credits will transfer over.

“There might be a very few instances where a credit will have to transfer in as an elective, but what we’ve seen is overwhelmingly that these courses work at the other state schools in Texas.”

Students are able to earn a general associate degree and associate degrees in arts, business, science, life science and mathematics. La Porte ISD pays all tuition, fees and book costs for students to attend.

In 2017, the first year students graduated from the program, 28 students graduated with associate degrees. In 2019, 38 students will graduate through the program, and 61 are on track to graduate with associate’s degrees from the ACE program by 2020.

“It’s basically two years of free education,” Grammer said. “A student gets to walk out of here as a senior in high school and a junior in college, which is great. We want to try to support them in any way that we can, and we’re here throughout the whole process; we even have college counselors available at the high school for when they need assistance.”

Braeden and Blake Christen are twins at La Porte High School who are in the ACE program, from which they plan to graduate in 2020.

“If you can keep up with all of your grades and you’ve been doing really well in school, there’s no reason not to do this,” Blake Christen said. “I can see no downside to it.

“I’m getting my associate of science because eventually I’d like to get a degree in biomedical engineering with a minor in biomechanics, and basically, I was able to get my basics, two years of college, for free.”

Braeden Christen recommends that students wanting to enroll in the ACE program take control of their schedule.

“You have to manage your time right,” he said. “You have to get into good study habits because they don’t hold your hand at the college. If something is due, it’s due. I have to make a calendar of all of my assignments and work on them a little bit throughout the week. Sure, maybe you could do it all on Sunday, but that’s not the best way to approach it.”

The twins’ mother, Cherie Christen, said that apart from lifting the financial burden of two years (times two) of college, she appreciates the way La Porte ISD handles the program.

“Not only do they pay for everything, they also provide bus transportation to and from the college if the child doesn’t have a car or a ride,” she said. “And not only that, but your kids don’t miss out on the high school experience. They can still play varsity sports, they’re still at the high school for half of the day, they still have all of their friends there — they just come out of high school a little bit ahead on college.”