Richmond Public Schools is bursting at the seams with brilliant students who are passionate about securing a bright future. Between these high achievers and organizations like RVA Future and Kollege and Kareer for Youth, both of which prepare high schoolers for post-collegiate success, it’s no wonder our youth are working harder and scoring higher as they plan for what’s next.
J. Sargeant Reynolds Community College is another resource that helps students strive for greatness and explore options beyond high school. With their Early College Academy (ECA), outstanding Richmond Public School students have the opportunity to earn their Associate’s degree while still completing the requirements for their high school diploma. Talk about overachievers! It’s remarkable to see teenagers—who often fall victim to the “immature and misguided” stereotypes—hop into the driver’s seat of their personal and educational development.
When it comes to opportunities available for Richmond youth, Reynolds ECA program is often left out of the conversation, which is unfortunate considering the incredible work it does to shape students into even higher achievers. We sat down with six members of ECA’s Class of 2018 to get a first-hand look into the program that’s raising the bar for RPS students. Open High School students Kree Small, Brittany Spain, Ibrahim Maday, Jazmine Harris, Bianca Foster, and Mylahn Parsons joined the program in August 2016; they’re not only set to receive their Associate’s degrees in 2018, but they’ve also undergone tremendous growth as a result of the program.
Janna Hall: So, why did you all decide to join Reynolds ECA?
Kree Small:?I first decided to join the ECA as a way to stand out when applying for college. Later, I realized it’s about so much more than that; graduating college before high school is a unique blessing.
Brittany Spain: I couldn’t pass up this opportunity to further my education before starting college. I knew that having the advantage of an Associate’s degree would come in handy during the college application process.
Ibrahim Maday: To be honest, I didn’t want to join ECA at first, but the opportunity to get a free college education was irresistible.
Jazmine Harris: Well for me, I wanted to join ECA because I saw it as an opportunity to save money [on tuition] and get a head-start in college.
Bianca Foster: It was a chance for me to elevate myself. Most of my classmates are smart with good grades; I wanted my college application to stand out.
Mylahn Parsons:I wanted to challenge myself by engaging in a program that was completely foreign to me, and step out of my comfort zone to see how much progress I could make on the college level.
JH:As great as the program is, I know it has its challenges, especially for high schoolers suddenly becoming college students. What would you say has been the most challenging aspect?
KS:You have to learn “adulting” pretty fast. It’s a real-life college setting and everything is your responsibility. There’s no calling your mom to defend you if you didn’t complete an assignment, and it’s all on you to send that email if you won’t be in class.
BS: For me, it’s time management. There’s [course] work, high school work, and studying, but my skills have really improved since joining the program in 2016.
IM: Prioritizing. Which 1,000-word essay do I start first? Should I spend this time studying for the S.A.T?
JH: Staying motivated can be challenging for me at times, but I agree with Brittany; time management and staying on task can get challenging.
BF: For me it’s keeping up with my potential. I always see that there’s room for improvement, so I try to do things to the best of?my ability. I become my own worst critic; it feels like I’ll never be satisfied with my own work.
MP: You have to make sure you set the appropriate amount of time aside for studying outside of classes.
JH: Time management seems to be a common thread. Challenges aside, what is the most rewarding part of ECA?
KS: For me, the most rewarding part is getting ahead; if you do what you’re supposed to, you get your Associate’s degree at the end.
BS: The Associate’s degree, of course! It’s the reward for all of my hard work and stress.
IH: Honestly, leaving campus. After spending three hours in lectures, it feels great to get on an RPS bus and remember that I’m still a high school student.
JH: Definitely graduating with my degree. Also, I’m able to do this with my friends by my side; they motivated me throughout this whole journey and get to walk across the stage with me.
BF: For me, the most rewarding part will be seeing my momma and dad after graduation and knowing how proud they are of me.
MP: I get to take advantage of an opportunity that I know isn’t available to most people my age. That’s the most rewarding part.
JH: How do you think you’ve grown from all of this? I know it isn’t easy by any stretch of the imagination.
KS: This program has helped me gain the skills and mindset I need for the real world: no excuses when it comes to getting what’s needed to be done, done.
BS: Going back to my last answer, I feel like I’ve grown in areas of time management and communication skills. I had trouble public speaking, but thanks to this program, I’ve conquered my fears.
IH: I’m more social now. It’s easy to build connections when everyone’s stressed about the same thing.
JH: Personally, I feel this program has prepared me for a college environment. It’s forced me to have a positive attitude and always put my best foot forward.
BF: I’ve learned how to be vulnerable. There were moments where I felt lost and tried to do everything on my own, but I had to learn how to ask for help. Whether it’s with instructions or clarity on [assignments], I’ve learned to humble myself and ask the person next to me.
Highs and lows considered, what’s certain is that products of Reynold’s ECA program aren’t just adding an Associate’s degree to their résumé; they’re also gaining a wealth of experiences and lessons in personal growth. And those aren’t things you can learn in a book. When it comes to desired outcomes of this program, the obvious answer of “my Associate’s degree!” wasn’t all they hoped to gain. All six students are excited to gain a competitive advantage, valuable life skills, and the assurance that no challenge—big or small—is a match for them. They and the other incredible students in ECA’s Class of 2018 are forces to be reckoned with, and they’re just getting started.
Photo credit: Steve Verhorn