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With only two weeks away from graduating with their high school diploma from Early College High School, you would think that students would be nervous to walk down the stage at the district’s Performing Arts Center during their commencement ceremony. That’s not the case for most students as the upcoming ceremony will be their second celebration of monumental academic achievements this year.

On May 2, a total of 31 seniors from ECHS celebrated their completion of an Associate’s degree or their academic core by participating in the Texas State Technical College Commencement Ceremony. The campus even had two students graduate with the distinction of Board Regents Scholars, which is an honor reserved for students graduating with a 4.0 Grade Point Average (GPA).

“It felt great to walk the stage and get my Associates Degree in Education,” said Abby Mireles, ECHS student. “It’s a degree that some people don’t get until they are older, and I was proud to have accomplished that at our age. My parents cheered so loud when they called my name. It was nice to make them proud as well.”

ECHS students like Mireles had the unique opportunity to graduate from TSTC before their high school graduation because of the campus’ dual enrollment design. Students at ECHS can start taking college classes at TSTC during their freshman year, as other campuses traditionally wait until 11th grade.

The campus focus on academic rigor allows students to develop the skills they need to succeed in college while challenging them to maintain a high academic standing. Students were more than happy to meet the challenge as they credit the staff and their ability to prioritize their high school and college academic course work, said Amber Ruiz, ECHS student and recent graduate of the Biology Associates Degree program.

“We knew that in order to graduate, we had to make sure we had to put our school work first,” said Ruiz. “It was difficult at times, but it was gratifying to see the end result. The staff and teachers helped us out a lot and gave us the support we needed to do well in all of our classes.”

Now Ruiz will apply her degree and accumulated college hours toward completing a bachelor’s degree in Biology at the University of Texas Pan-American. A transition she is particularly excited because she can now go straight to the upper level classes the university offers for Occupational Therapy, she said.

“It’s exciting to be able to go right into courses directly related to the medical field,” said Ruiz. “It’s going to be a challenge, but I think with all of the classes we took at ECHS, I’ll be ready to do well.”

The college hours and classes the students received came to no cost to them or their families as it was part of the Dual Enrollment program. The financial assistance of a dual enrollment student provides a big relief for some students as they appreciate the opportunity to receive a college education for free, said Carmen Cisneros.

“I was talking about it with my mom the other day,” said Cisneros, who recently graduated with her academic core completed. “It’s such a big help to have these college hours paid for. We are so fortunate to have this opportunity to have the cost to get our college degree almost cut in half.”

Before they can walk through the doors of their future university, they need to mark the end of their high school careers at the ECHS commencement ceremony on May 31. The ceremony will begin at 12:30 p.m. at the district’s Performing Arts Center.

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