Ocean Rhodes rediscovered his passion for competitive basketball while earning college credit at Early College High School. The aspiring U.S. Air Force cadet is one of many Owls to have flocked onto athletic teams for a well-rounded high school experience.
“Playing basketball was always important for me,” said Rhodes, a senior at ECHS and a member of the Harlingen High School varsity basketball team. “But I wanted to attend Early College High School because that’s where my brother wanted to go (twin brother Cherokee) because we wanted the challenge of college courses. We enrolled here not knowing we could play basketball, but then the opportunity came our sophomore year, and we jumped on it.”
ECHS is a Harlingen Consolidated Independent School District high school located on the Texas State Technical College campus. It provides students with the opportunity to earn their academic core or an associates degree at no cost to their families through an integrated graduation plan that includes college courses. With a small learning environment, a caring administration and a college-like atmosphere, ECHS puts students in a position to get a jump-start into their post-secondary studies.
In order to meet the demand and to provide students with a well-rounded education, ECHS has been working with coaches at HHS and Harlingen High School South so student athletes can compete at the school where they are zoned to attend, meeting the guidelines of the University Interscholastic League.
“Colleges are looking for well-rounded students who can balance different areas of their lives,” ECHS Principal Angel Paxton said. “We want our students to develop peer and time management skills because we think these are necessary for admittance and success in college. At the same time, these opportunities also help students build character and leadership skills, as well as to gain a more complete high school experience.”
The Rhodes twins joined 36 other ECHS students this year to participate at HHS and HHSS in JROTC, soccer, baseball, cheerleading, tennis, golf and swimming programs, Paxton said. Three years ago, just two students took advantage of the opportunity.
With more and more students on the 303-student ECHS campus playing sports, a little community of athletes has formed, providing students with car-pooling opportunities and a learning community where students can work on homework together and build academic success.
“We ask our student athletes to take on additional responsibilities when it comes to playing sports,” Paxton said. “First, they must work with their coaches to meet the needs of the team within their schedules. Our students are not allowed to miss their college classes. The students must also work with their college professors to complete eligibility reports on their grades, as well as with their parents for transportation between school and practices.”
Hunter Reiley was thrilled to have the opportunity to build leadership skills and gain experience in a military program with the HHS JROTC program, the junior at ECHS said.
“I have had a lot of fun in the program, and I’ve been able to develop a lot of leadership skills,” Reiley said.
Reiley gained an interested in the armed forces when he took a field trip to the Kingsville Naval Air Station for an air show as a freshman at ECHS, he said. Now, he has been able to work his way up the ranks with the HHS JROTC to the position of squad leader. He hopes to use his experience in JROTC to enter the Texas A&M Corps of Cadets.
Georgia Newell, a freshman at ECHS, has made quite a splash on the campus and in the pool with the Cardinal varsity swim team, where she appeared on three relay teams that qualified for the state’s regional meet earlier this year, she said.
“I started swimming in seventh grade, but I wanted to come to ECHS to get college credits,” Newell said. “I want to be able to start college because I want to be a marine biologist, so I knew ECHS would give me the opportunity to save money and spend less time at college.”
Time management has been the most important skill for her since starting high school, as well as her first college course this semester, she said. But she has been getting adjusted to the balance with the help of four other ECHS students who also compete on the swim team.
“I went to middle school with two of the other ECHS girls who swim,” Newell said. “We are always so excited to be able to swim together and to support each other at school.”