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SISD, EPCC celebrate opening of Falcon, Empire, Pebble Hills early colleges

Community and students participating in Early College ribbon cutting event  

Socorro Independent School District and El Paso Community College administrators, board members, teachers and students officially ushered in three new early college high school programs at a ribbon-cutting ceremony Aug. 2 at Pebble Hills High School.

SISD, in partnership with EPCC, celebrated the opening of Falcon Early College at Eastlake High School, Empire Early College at El Dorado High School and Pebble Hills Early College for the 2019-20 school year.

“We are the only district to have an early college program at all of our comprehensive high schools; and, of course, we still have our stand alone, our first and outstanding, Mission Early College,” said Carmen Crosse, SISD assistant superintendent of secondary education.

The early college program allows high school students to take college level courses and gives them the unique opportunity to not only graduate with their high school degree, but with their associate degree at the same time.

“They have the opportunity to have their associates at 18, their bachelors at 20, and possibly retire early. I want to encourage them to look at the big picture and set themselves up for success,” said Eric Jerome Jr., an AVID and early college teacher at Pebble Hills.

As part of SISD’s Operation College Bound, which focuses on ensuring all students are prepared for college and careers, the new early college high schools will be giving more students the opportunity to take free college courses.

“EPCC provides us the classes at no cost for the students and we provide the textbooks at no cost for the students,” said Frank Clark, SISD advanced academic coordinator.

In 2018-19 alone, high school students districtwide, including those in the early college high school programs, enrolled to earn some 33,000 college credit hours which saves more than $12 million in college costs.

Itzel Guerrero, a student in the Empire Early College who hopes to become a forensic analyst, said she chose the program for the savings in college costs and the fact that she can get ahead.

“It’s an amazing opportunity knowing I can help save my parents money and that I can get a head start on my life,” Guerrero said.

SISD was the first district in the region to open an early college high school, Mission Early College High School, in 2006. The district opened three more early college programs within a three-year span - Socorro Early College in 2015, Rams Early College in 2016, and Trailblazers Early College in 2017.

“We’ve had a wonderful partnership with SISD under Dr. Espinoza’s leadership,” said William Serrata, president of El Paso Community College. “Together, here we are successfully opening three more early college high schools.”

Last year, 1,465 high school students were enrolled in the four SISD early college programs. Each early college program accepts 135 students in their freshman cohort. Eighth-grade students in the feeder area of each high school may apply to be selected as part of their high school program. Eighth-grade students across the district may apply to Mission Early College High School.

“Students at the middle school are visited by the early college high schools. They are told about the program and what they need to do,” Crosse said. “Then we have a general application for the students to fill out and give to their counselors. Their counselors then turn them back to us at the SISD District Service Center, and we go through the lottery process.”

Students taking part in the early high school at the comprehensive high schools, which are sometimes referred to as a “school within a school,” can get the whole high school experience and participate in various athletic, fine arts, and other co-curricular activities.

“Here I can play volleyball, hang out with my friends, and get my associates,” said Savannah Grajeda, a student at Pebble Hills, who’d like to become a broadcast journalist.

Some 400 freshman are part of the first cohort at the Falcon, Empire and Pebble Hills early colleges.

“I’m just very honored,” said Eastlake student Andrea Enriquez, who wants to study to be a physical therapist. “This is a really good opportunity for me and for my family. I want to tell my kids later on that I was part of the first class (at Eastlake) to finish high school with my associates.”

The early college programs is just one of the endless opportunities in Team SISD that will help students get closer to achieving their future aspirations.

“I was an SISD student myself,” Jerome said. “I’m glad to go from being a student to being a teacher, and to be able to invest back into the community, to the district, and to my students.”

SISD, EPCC celebrate Falcon, Empire, Pebble Hills early colleges event photos

Published August 7, 2019

Strategic Direction: College and Career Readiness