By Rachel Hawkins, NDG Staff Writer
Higher education is something most students seeking a brighter future strive for, with their parents’ desire to see their child succeed. Yet as many colleges and universities continue to raise the price of tuition, too often many of these students are unable to attend the college or university of their choice. They are forced to seek other opportunities.
But luckily, Irving Independent School District (Irving ISD) is trying to change this.
Irving’s Early College Start program allows students to earn up to 60 college credits to obtain their associate’s degree while attending high school. The program was piloted at Irving High School and Singley Academy in the fall of 2016 and later rolled out to all four Irving high schools.
These students are enrolled in dual-credit classes which will apply to their college studies at no cost to the students or their families. The free tuition comes from The Dallas County Promise, a partnership between school districts, colleges, universities, and communities. It is designed to increase college completion rates in Dallas County. The program is open to high school seniors regardless of their GPA or financial need. To qualify, students must demonstrate college readiness by achieving the minimum passing standards for the Texas Success Initiative (TSI) placement assessment.
The Dallas County Promise started at Irving ISD, at MacArthur High School and Singley Academy during the 2018 – 2019 school year. In addition to full-tuition, students have access to mentor coaches, and an opportunity to earn college credits accepted by participating community colleges and four-year universities.
Steve Lomeli, a senior and class president at Singley Academy, is one of the students who has already earned his associate’s degree in Science – Liberal Arts. After high school, he plans to major in management information systems. With the degree, Lomeli intends to manage his own IT team and work up to an IT director where he can lead the entire sector.
“The Early College Start program started off in my sophomore year where the counselors were beginning to look at students who had the potential to fit the classes in their schedules,” Lomeli said. “I fitted in by simply doing pre-calculus dual-credit and dual AP classes. So you get the GPA booster, and you get the college credit. And then at the end of the year if you pass the AP exam you get even more credits.”
At the end of his junior year, he met with his counselor to see where he was in the track. He discovered he was three classes away, but Lomeli knew he was not able to fit it into his senior schedule. His senior year was going to be busy with college applications and planning events. So, Lomeli decided to finish those three classes over the summer going into his senior year.
“I am in the computer maintenance specialty, and I currently intern at Citi Group, a global command center,” Lomeli said. “I come from a Mexican family, and my parents were born and raised in Mexico. There is a total of eight of us in the house. All five of my siblings are younger than me, and I feel that’s where my leadership skills stem from.”
Lomeli was also a leadership intern at a leadership camp at Irving ISD called Camp Invention. He stated most of his leadership skills came from there as well.
“Since my parents don’t have any experience with the American way of life, I help them with their finances. I help them do their taxes and my own taxes, I pay the bills for them on a monthly basis,” Lomeli said. “A lot of adult things you wouldn’t see a normal student do, I do for them, and I’m so happy I’m doing that. As I do it (the taxes), I also try to show them too, because I know I’m not always going to be in the household for that. It’s trying to educate them as much as they educated me as I was growing up.”
He was also part of the superintendent’s council with Dr. Jose Parra last year where the faculty was always looking for ways to improve the program. They sought feedback from the students on how the dual-credit classes were working out, and the deadlines related.
Lomeli also stated joining the programs were the best decisions he made at his school.
“Now as I’m going into college and graduating high school I already have two years of college completed,” Lomeli said. “Not only is that going to save me tons of money and time, but while I’m in college, perhaps I’ll be able to pick up an extra internship or get extra career experiences because of getting those basics out of the way.”
The conveniences of the program were fantastic to Lomeli. He only had to take three classes at North Lake College, and the rest of the classes were at his school.
“It was very nice, it was nothing that made me go too out of my way,” Lomeli said. “Of course I had to put in the studying hours and the work for that, but that’s expected. The teachers were very supportive in terms of the program.”
This article originally appeared the North Dallas Gazette.