It is an opportunity too good to pass up. Henry Castros, Carolina Mendoza and Celia Rosas are three of the students who have set their sights on career goals and have made the commitment to take part in the new Storm Lake High School early college charter school.
The program starting this school year is considered something of a breakthrough, allowing students to work toward a high-school degree and a college associate's degree simultaneously, and the rest of the state is closely watching for the results.
After making the decision, these three teens each found staff members ready to help guide them. Their high-school credit requirements and career goals were examined and incorporated into individualized course outlines.
The courses are held at the high school, Storm Lake campus of Iowa Central Community College, and in some cases, the Buena Vista University facilities.
Henry gave up graduating with his classmates in May to be a part of the inaugural class at the charter school. He dreams of being a probation officer, and doesn't mind taking both the day and evening classes needed to pursue that goal.
"It was a last-minute thing for me," he said. "I was interested right away when I heard about it and thought, 'There's no better way to finish my education and to have the school pay for it. This really is a great opportunity for me. If I had graduated with my classmates, I would have had to get a job and wait a year to have the money to go on to school. [Making the commitment] forced me to go to school right away."
Henry is enjoying his criminal justice courses, and a dual educational experience.
"It feels comfortable but it gives me the opportunity to work with other students and I get a change in the school surroundings with my night classes."
Several of his friends have chosen the charter school as well. He has even convinced his younger sister, now a sophomore, into making the commitment for the next school year.
"The classes I am taking really motivate me. I now know that I have a good chance to be what I want to be."
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One thing he is missing is the soccer team he has been a part of and his involvement in school-organized clubs. Rules are rules. Students are only eligible to participate in sports for the first four years of their high school careers.
Carolina has always wanted to be a teacher. Last year she took part in a special program directed by Barb Lange in which high school students went to the Headstart classrooms and read to the students. She loved it.
This year she is a senior at SLHS. She is fortunate in that an observatory class has been added to her schedule. She spends an hour three times a week in the second grade classroom of Kristen Leng. Carolina's presence is appreciated in the busy classroom and being around the young students is solidifying her choice to be an educator.
With a heavier class load this school year and perhaps a summer school load, she will be able to push her way to an associates degree in no time.
For some students who remain committed and maintain high grade point averages, the University of Northern Iowa will provide some attractive scholarships. Carolina is striving for one of them.
"I feel very privileged to be a part of the charter school."
Celia is a junior and though she is not as involved in outside classes as her two friends here, she is on the path to a career as a social worker or perhaps eventually a probation officer.
Taking part in the Triple A course, (Accelerated Acquisition of Academic English) offered as a dual credit course at ICCC, prepares students for college-level courses.
All students who have taken part in the Triple A course have said it is tough; this is a big commitment for the students taking part.
Celia has already felt the pressures of extra homework.
"I see my friends having fun but I'm at home doing homework or studying," she commented. And although she feels left out at times, she says sincerely, "It is still worth it."
She finds the experience to be exciting - even though it is still new to her.
There are kinks to work out in the process, but as Henry pointed out, "This is the first year and we're all learning as the year goes along.
Principal Mike Hanna stressed that once the fifth year is complete it is hoped all charter school students will have earned some sort of post secondary degree or certificate. Those students can then receive their high school diploma, with a younger class. It is also hoped that a special recognition can be made at the high school graduation for the charter school graduates, too.
He also stressed that the college dropout rate is astounding and it is the hope of the educators at SLHS and those involved in the charter school, that through their support, these students will go on and be successful and complete their secondary educations.
Henry added that his parents are proud of him for taking part in the program and concluded with, "It is stressful to put a child through college. This program is helping them and us. We're all serious about our careers and our futures.