$5.6M to fund early college highs in Brownsville, PSJA
Feb 22, 2013 (The Brownsville Herald - McClatchy-Tribune Information Services via COMTEX) --
The Brownsville Independent School District announced plans Thursday to expand the early college high school model to Hanna, Rivera and Pace high schools.
The announcement came at the Region One Education Service Center in Edinburg, where BISD and the Pharr-San Juan-Alamo Independent School District announced they had received a $5.6 million federal grant as part of the Early College Expansion Partnership. The partnership also includes Educate Texas, a public-private partnership of the Communities Foundation of Texas, and Jobs for the Future, a national nonprofit based in Boston.
Funded by the U.S. Department of Education's Investing in Innovation (i3) Fund, the grant is part of a $15 million effort to apply the early college model on a larger scale.
The Early College Expansion Partnership was selected as one of 20 nationwide i3 recipients out of a highly competitive pool of more than 700 applicants.
At PSJA, the grant will fund early college implementation at Memorial High School and PSJA High School. The grant includes a college counseling component at the feeder middle schools for each of the BISD and PSJA high schools.
The early college model provides students with the opportunity to earn up to two years of college credit, tuition free, while obtaining their high school diplomas. BISD embraced the concept in 2008 when it opened Brownsville Early College High School in collaboration with the University of Texas at Brownsville and Texas Southmost College.
However, BECHS is based on a small-school model and capped at 400 students.
The grant announced Thursday will allow BISD and PSJA to expand the program to regular high schools, BISD Superintendent Carl A. Montoya said. "The expansion of this program will significantly boost our existing efforts to close the achievement gap in the Rio Grande Valley," he said.
Berta Pena, BISD's assistant superintendent for support services and curriculum, said the expansion will open college-level instruction to all students. The grant is for five years, and BISD's goal is eventually to apply what it learns at the first three campuses and expand the program to the district's other three high schools.
"The beauty of this program is that it's college for all students," Pena said. "The rigor in the classroom, the college preparedness, the career counseling ... all are going to be open to all students. ... All students will graduate with some college credits. It will open doors and facilitate entrance to a college or university."
Chris Coxon, the chief program officer at Educate Texas, said the goal is for every student at the early colleges to graduate with at least 12 college credit hours along with a high school diploma.
Educate Texas' role in the Early College Expansion Project is to provide design, management and implementation support to the districts.
Coxon said Educate Texas will help the schools obtain certification by the Texas Education Agency as early college high schools, which is required before ninth- and 10th-grade students can take college-level courses.
"We'll work with the districts to help them through the designation process," Coxon said. "Even if the school is not yet designated, we want to maximize the number of college hours the students take."
Coxon said Educate Texas will play a key role in teaching students the study skills necessary to succeed at college-level work.
"Those are the same strategies they will employ once they go on to a university ... and to be successful in life," Coxon said. "Those strategies will be explicitly taught." He said the program has the potential to reach 20,000 Valley students.
Pena said the program equals the "empowerment of students. They can become anyone they want. ... The community as a whole will become stronger because the educational attainment will be that much higher."
U.S. Reps. Filemon Vela, D-Brownsville, and Ruben Hinojosa, D-Mercedes, also took part in the grant announcement, along with Lily Tercero and Shirley Reed, presidents of Texas Southmost College and South Texas College, respectively.
"Research shows that the fastest growing job sectors in the U.S. require more than a high school diploma," Vela said. "With this grant from the U.S. Department of Education and the work of the Early College Expansion Partnership, we can increase educational access for young people so they can pursue their dreams."
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