Early College High School broadens students’ horizons

Published 12:00 am Saturday, September 1, 2007

57 percent of seniors on track to earn two-year degrees



Email newsletter signup

Pajola Tarver was taking her time making her way to her calculus class Friday afternoon on the campus of Wallace Community College Selma.

While she may have been taking her time, she knew very well how much time she had, and said she wouldn’t dare be late. There are no bells for the 62 seniors in the Early College Program, the firsts to graduate in the fourth year of the program.

That’s a good thing.

The 16-year-old senior said because there are no bells was only one reason she likes the program. She has been in the one-of-a-kind program since its inception and is on track to graduate from Selma High School with a diploma, and an Associate of Arts degree.

Tarver said the freedom students experience has been inspiring.

The Selma Early College High School is the only concept of its kind in the state of Alabama. In fact, it’s only one of three in Alabama, Georgia, Mississippi and Florida. There are two in South Carolina.

The Selma City School Board of Education had some less than flattering things to say about the program during a called meeting last Wednesday. One board member even went as far as to say parents of the students in the program are expecting all of the students who graduate to have degrees.

Board members admitted the next night in an advisory board meeting at WCCS they spoke out of frustration, saying they were uninformed. However, Selma BOE members have vowed to investigate, find the kinks, and work them out.

The students at Selma High say we think we’re all that cause we’re over here. But I think they want to be over here.&8221;

More than students have been inspired by the concept, Tarver said her mother, Brenda McCants, enrolled in college.

The Difference

WCCS President Dr. James Mitchell hired a liaison to work between Selma High School and the college. The college has dedicated six classrooms and space for a counselor, program director and a full-time coordinator. The college provides textbooks. The counselor, Wanda Young, was just added after the third year of the program’s existence. The program liaison, Earlene Larkin, assists with scheduling and is helping to make sure of a &8220;smooth transition&8221; for students, she said. She said it is not an easy chore due to the logistics of having high school students that need to be at the Selma High campus during certain times, mixed with course schedule offerings at the college.

Through it all, Larkin said she is seeing a positive change.

Larkin said the differences are even more physical, for instance, when the bus arrives dropping off students at the college campus once their feet hit the ground they’re quieter.

Program organizers say that is pretty much expected. Peers &8220;have a tremendous affect on each other.&8221;

The program’s success, Larkin said, can be attributed to the &8220;change in traditional high school culture.&8221;

By The Numbers

The SECHS has 62 seniors. Among the seniors, 57 percent of them are on track to graduate with associate of arts degrees by the summer of 2008, school officials said. About 72 percent of the seniors will have an equivalent of one year of college.

More than 16 percent of the seniors enrolled in SECHS have earned 20 hours or more, which is equivalent to one year of college. Selma City Board of Education members said last week they thought the objective of the program was for all of the students to earn college degrees, something program officials said has never been a goal, and called &8220;somewhat unrealistic.&8221;

More than 16 percent of the seniors enrolled in the SECHS will have earned 3-20 hours or more, which is equivalent to one semester, Griffin said.

Who The Program Serves

The program was funded to serve not only first-generation students, but to extend services to students that are &8220;traditionally underserved and underrepresented in higher education.&8221; Griffin said. &8220;The goal is to provide an accelerated, rather than remedial, learning environment.

It is unclear what percentages of students are from those populations, the 198 students enrolled in SECHS, like Alex Austin, see it as an opportunity. A tenth grader, Austin said his parents, mechanic Alex and Belinda Austin, who works in a nursing home, want what’s best for him.

A Saint football running back and defensive tackle, Austin said SECHS helped him prioritize.