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Five Ash Fork seniors graduate high school with associate degrees

From left: In 2018, Ash Fork students Jordyn Tenn, Brooke Dziubla and Christopher Vazquez took advantage of a dual enrollment associate’s degree program offered by Yavapai College at Ash Fork High School. Ash Fork High School welcomed an inaugural class of eight students into the program in the fall of 2017. This year, the school celebrated five seniors who completed the program. (Wendy Howell/WGCN)

From left: In 2018, Ash Fork students Jordyn Tenn, Brooke Dziubla and Christopher Vazquez took advantage of a dual enrollment associate’s degree program offered by Yavapai College at Ash Fork High School. Ash Fork High School welcomed an inaugural class of eight students into the program in the fall of 2017. This year, the school celebrated five seniors who completed the program. (Wendy Howell/WGCN)

ASH FORK, Ariz. — While high school seniors across Arizona were struggling to transition their final quarter of high school to online learning, five seniors at Ash Fork High School managed to transition to online learning to complete associate degrees at Yavapai College.

Seniors Evelyn Acosta, Marco Ayala, Brooke Dziubla, Alex Keele and Christopher Vazquez have been a part of Ash Fork High School’s associate degree program in conjunction with Yavapai College.

On May 21, they will be graduating with both a high school diploma from Ash Fork High School and an Associate of Arts degree from Yavapai College.

These students represent the inaugural graduating class of Ash Fork High School’s Associate Degree Program. Prior to this program, students could enroll in one or two online classes with Yavapai College during their senior year. But beginning in fall 2017, Ash Fork High School partnered with Yavapai College to build a program where dedicated students could take a series of 20 college courses that would satisfy requirements for a high school diploma and an associate degree.

Potential students are now identified during their freshman year of high school through a combination of grades, standardized test scores, and overall character. Those who are willing to make a three and a half year commitment begin taking introductory college classes online during the spring of their freshman year, and gradually build their course load. Their senior year they spend all day on Yavapai College’s Prescott campus taking in-person classes.

Students who successfully complete the program are empowered with at least 60 college credits, which can be transferred to any number of universities inside or outside Arizona. These students are also more prepared to interact with university professors and face the rigors university classes present.

This empowerment and advanced preparation is especially important for students from Ash Fork High School, which is a Title I school with 100 percent free or reduced lunch eligibility, an above-average rate of first-generation college students and 50 miles from the nearest college.

Completing the program is not without sacrifices.

Students must make time in their schedules for regular meetings with advisors at Yavapai College, who help ensure the college’s requirements are fulfilled and students are taking the best courses. This helps to ensure a smooth transition to selected universities.

Some students who are eligible choose not to enroll in the program because of the heavy workload required of college classes. Requirements to attend Yavapai College’s Prescott campus during their senior year also limits opportunities for students to participate in other extra-curricular activities.

But for students like Evelyn, Marco, Brooke, Alex and Christopher, the program represents thousands of dollars saved on college tuition and a shorter window until they can pursue dream careers and futures as high school — and college graduates.

Ash Fork Joint Unified School District serves about 275 K-12 students in one building. Students come from Yavapai and Coconino Counties surrounding Ash Fork. The district was ranked as the highest performing school district by the Arizona Department of Education in 2014, and the elementary school was named a National Blue Ribbon School from the U.D. Department of Education in 2019.

Ash Fork graduation

Ash Fork High School graduation ceremony will take place May 21 at 7 p.m. at the Ash Fork High School soccer field. Because of COVID-19, attendance is limited.

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