LEESVILLE--There are ways to make the transition from high school to college smoother and Hicks High School is pursuing one of those avenues. Currently, they have 17 students enrolled in their Associate Degree program.
Last year four seniors completed the program. Ten seniors this year will complete their degree in May which is an increase of 60 percent.
Five of those seniors also play on the girls on Hicks High School's Girls Basketball team. This team of scholars went to the most recent girls basketball play-offs and won the state championship.
Coach Charrier said, "This is the finest group of young ladies that I've had the honor to coach. Whether it's academics, towards an Associate Degree, or athletics you can be assured they will strive to be the best."
Brooklyn Blackwell is a Senior athlete who was on the girls basketball team. She said, "Character, endurance, confidence, motivation, self-discipline...these are just a few of the qualities needed to acquire the greatest athletic and academic titles of your high school career."
Jennifer Wilbanks, Assistant Principal, said, "They are wonderful kids. They really are dedicated and involved students. They have made the most out of their time at Hicks High School and have soaked up every opportunity we could possibly offer them. Not only do they play sports, go to college, and go to regular classes but also the majority of them are in our high school choir, 4-H club, AHEC club, FCS club, and maintain a 3.9 - 4.0 GPA. They are exceptional students and positive role models for all the other students aspiring to walk in their footsteps."
Wilbanks explained, "My concern was the percentage of students who leave high school with all intentions of getting a degree and then life happens. For many different reasons, a large portion of high school students do not complete their bachelor's degree. My sole purpose in this program was to take those capable of academically achieving this goal and provide them with an opportunity to do so. I wanted to give them something to fall back on. I tell them all the time my job as an assistant principal is to pack their "life" backpack with as many successes as I can before they graduate. I want to provide them with academic achievements that will help them become productive citizens."
To initiate the program Wilbanks met with a group of students who met the requirements for the program.
The requirements are a 19 overall ACT score, 18 English ACT score, 19 Math ACT score, and 3.0 high school GPA. She sat down with the students and their parents and explained the program to them and then shared with them the pros and the cons and talked through the program.
Wilbanks added, "This was the first year so it was a learning process for all of us."
One of the students, Presley Youngblood, said "The Associate's Degree program is a great opportunity to help you get ahead and get a taste of what college will be like. The work may seem a little overwhelming at first, but you just have to learn how to better manage your time and work for it to become achievable."
Some of the reasons to consider pursuing an Associate Degree are:
- Dual enrollment gives students an idea of what full-time college will be like
- College courses may give a student a closer look at his or her area of academic interest
- Taking a college-level class will help the student demonstrate the ability to handle more difficult coursework
- Possible reduced costs for college education
- The biggest benefit is that the student starts accumulating college credits, , helping him or her graduate on time or even early
Wilbanks said, "The percentage of students has increased over the last year. We started the program with eight students. We have doubled that since the beginning. The students enter the program as a sophomore in high school. Several of the college courses replace high school courses so we are able to give them hours throughout their day to work on their college classes. Our business teacher is very good about allowing them to work in her room and she keeps an eye on their progress and makes sure they are on task."
The degree is an Associate Degree of General Studies with a concentration in Social Sciences. It requires 60 hours of college credits.
A large portion of the classes replace high school credits. Some examples are History 1010, Geography 1010, Biology 1010, English 1010 and 1020, Math 1020, Fine Arts 1040, and Communication 1010.
Wilbanks said, "Northwestern is the only college I'm aware of that offers this opportunity to students. All of the courses are online. The students work through Moodle which is an open-source learning platform. The cost of the courses is $100 per course. Our students are blessed because the school board covers this cost. The only expense the students have is their books. As a school, we have established a fine for courses not passed. This requires the students to have some accountability."
Besides the numerous reasons to consider this type of program, there are real world applications such as:
- Developing a strong work ethic
- Forming essential time management skills
- Improving writing skills
- Advancing critical thinking skills
- Studying at a more mature rate than their peers
"We begin talking with our students about the program their 8th grade year," said Wilbanks. "By the end of their freshman year, we need their ACT score as that is what is required to enter the program. We try our best to educate our younger students concerning the opportunities they have within our high school curriculum."
Fort Polk Progress Chairman Michael Reese expressed his enthusiasm and admiration for the way the Associate Degree program has been implemented at Hicks High School.
"Being as this program is fairly new it is off to a strong start," Reese said. It also demonstrates the ability of student athletes to be successful in both their academic as well as athletic endeavors."
It is proven that students taking undergraduate courses in high school are more likely to graduate from high school, enroll in college and earn a degree than their peers who are not enrolled in an early college program.
This early experience helps to keep students on the right track towards graduating from high school, gives them a head start on their college education and provides them a competitive edge when it comes time to apply for their first job.