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Ahead of the curve: Ash Fork High School launches associate's degree program

Jordyn Tenn, Brooke Dziubla and Christopher Vazquez are taking advantage of a dual enrollment associate’s degree program at Ash Fork High School. (Wendy Howell/WGCN)

Jordyn Tenn, Brooke Dziubla and Christopher Vazquez are taking advantage of a dual enrollment associate’s degree program at Ash Fork High School. (Wendy Howell/WGCN)

Imagine completing high school with an associate’s degree, ready to be gainfully employed and earning a decent salary, all at the age of 18.

This year, the Ash Fork Unified School District is offering just that. Students at Ash Fork High School will have the opportunity to earn an associate’s degree by the time they graduate as part of a unique partnership with Yavapai College.

“We realize we can’t just get kids ready for graduation anymore, we now have to make sure they are also able to do whatever it is they want to do next.”

— Al Wood, Ash Fork teacher

Ash Fork High School welcomed an inaugural class of eight students into the program in the fall of 2017. Students will complete college-level courses at the school during their freshman and sophomore years and begin studying at Yavapai College part-time in their junior year. Students will become full-time college students and complete their studies at the Yavapai College campus in their senior year. Successful graduates will graduate high school with not just a high school degree, but also an associate of arts or associate of science degree.

“The idea is starting their freshman year, they will be allowed to take classes for their high school credits through Yavapai College so that by the time they graduate from high school, they will have the 60 credits required to get an associate’s degree,” said Al Wood, Ash Fork High School social studies teacher and college transition coordinator.

Wood said the students were invited to participate in the program by the school staff. The staff looked at students’ grades, character, the effort they put into their classes and parent support.

“It takes a lot of parent buy-in because not a lot of parents are open to the idea of their high school students spending the amount of time and effort necessary for college level classes,” Wood said. “But the advantage is that its free tuition, which is incredible.”

Wood said the school is covering the costs of most of the program, including transportation, but parents are helping with the cost of books and materials. He said the school was able to come up with the money by cutting back in other areas.

“We try to trim our staff costs as much as possible, which means we don’t have as many electives to offer,” he said. “We trim our faculty down but at the same time we wear a lot of hats.”

Students begin the program as freshmen where they have one Yavapai College class in addition to their high school classes. This year, the freshmen began with Introduction to Communication, which counts as an elective.

As the students move into their sophomore year of high school, they take two or three college classes. When they become juniors they spend half of their day on college courses.

By the time students are seniors, they will be transported to Yavapai College for all of their coursework.

The online coursework is a combination of reading, watching videos, completing homework and taking quizzes.

“Sometimes we have to do Skype, but we haven’t yet,” said Brooke Dziubla, an Ash Fork sophomore who is enrolled in the program.

Dziubla said she does most of her online class on her own, although the students meet on Mondays after school. She said it is structured and easy to follow. Each week the students check a message board for their assignments, which are on a time line.

“It’s relatively self-paced though,” she said.

Dziubla said she appreciates the opportunity to participate in the program. She said it has helped her think about her future, which now includes attending a four-year college.

When asked why she decided to take the program, Dziubla said “I figure that it’s a really great free opportunity that takes time and effort, both of which I have. I’m thinking of doing something in the law enforcement field in the future.”

Wood said the program doesn’t add significantly to a student’s work load since the high school schedule allows them to accommodate the classes.

Currently, high school students are required to complete 22 hours of credits to graduate. Wood said students typically take six classes each year, which allows time to make up classes or take extra electives.

He said the Yavapai College courses such as English and math will count as core high school classes for the students.

“The 22 credits at the high school is a bare minimum,” he said. “It could be done in three years for students who are motivated, so it’s actually an extra year we are playing with right there.”

Freshman Jordyn Tenn said it hasn’t been difficult to add an extra class to her schedule this year. She said she has always pushed herself academically.

“I want to go to medical school,” she said. “I need a doctorate, I want to go into neurology.”

Christopher Vazquez is active in extracurriculars at the high school which include sports. He said he doesn’t mind the extra coursework since it’s for his education.

“I want to do the fire and rescue program,” he said. “I want to get into firefighting and then I want to continue with a four-year university.”

Wood said the school is very excited to offer this opportunity to the students. He said it’s a pilot program this year so the staff expects to make adjustments.

“We’re learning as we go, so we’ll be looking at what worked and what didn’t,” he said.

He said high schools typically focus on getting a child through high school, but Ash Fork Unified School District is working toward their mission to make sure every child is either prepared for college or career.

“We realize we can’t just get kids ready for graduation anymore, we now have to make sure they are also able to do whatever it is they want to do next,” Wood said.

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