Early in the 2016-17 school year, 126 students from six Hall County high schools started going to Jones Learning Center five days a week to take their first college classes with real professors, but in smaller classrooms with their peers.
By the time the school year was over, the students had built self-confidence and found study partners, friendships and an excitement about a future as a full-time college student.
“It’s been phenomenal,” said Michele Hood, coordinator of the first year of Early College @ Jones. “The biggest shock for me was hearing how much this experience changed their confidence level in going to college. The students, they didn’t know how to talk to professors or how to advocate for themselves. We were intentional about what we are doing on their off days to help them get that confidence and help them get those skills that are going to make them successful.”
Professors from the University of North Georgia and Lanier Technical College taught classes in a variety of subjects. A total of 99 students took Lanier Tech classes, while 27 took classes from UNG professors.
“It’s the same professors who would teach an English on their campus or a math on their campus or psychology, but they travel to our campus,” Hood said. “They’re getting the same level of rigor, but (the professors) also understand that they’re high school students, so we may scaffold them a little more, to help them to understand what is due and how to communicate with professors.”
Results appeared to show the effort has been successful. With most of the 126 students taking more than one class and some taking as many as four, 80 percent received a grade of A or B in the 318 courses completed. Only about 1 percent of those received a failing grade.
“Half of all college students fail a college course,” Hood said.
And then there were the stories of the students.
Remington Smith, who graduated last week from Flowery Branch, is going to study video game design in the fall at the Ringling College of Art and Design in Sarasota, Fla. He had the opportunity to take 2-D and 3-D animation classes through Lanier Tech. A project from one of those classes was used in his portfolio in his application for admission to the Florida school.
His father, Robert, said his son has Asperger’s syndrome, and he was concerned before the program started how his son would handle college.
“I have nothing but admiration for the program,” Robert Smith said. “The early college program put him in a college environment, but also he had support. It was not as if you were babying the child through, but if he was having difficulty, there was someone he knew he could go to.”
Like half of the students in the program, Olivia Miller of Flowery Branch is a first-generation college student, which made college “a pretty scary thing for me.” She credited Hood and assistant coordinator Stephanie Cookson with giving her the support she needed.
“From the very beginning, it was awesome because I had people like Ms. Hood and Ms. Cookson help me through the application process and making sure I got everything done,” she said. “I didn’t think I was capable of doing everything academically that I was capable of doing, and I think it was great to have someone to support me through that.”
Valentina Casas, who graduated from Johnson High over the weekend, earned nine hours in the program this year, hours she will take with her to Lanier Tech when she enters in the fall on her way to her goal of being an ultrasound technician.
“It motivated me to do better things in life and actually go to college,” she said. “I like it better than high school because you have your own freedom and you go at your own pace and you don’t have teachers telling you what to do.”
Cade Black, who graduated from North Hall last week, said “the real college experiences” was the best thing about early college for him.
“I got a real feel for what college is going to be like, the atmosphere, the people, the classes,” he said. “I got to learn how I should pace myself, what can be done now and what should be done later.”
Carolina Frederick, who just graduated from North Hall and plans to attend UNG in the fall, said she believes the program “is better than the college experience.”
“I came into it just wanting to take classes, but I got so much more out of it than that,” she said. “It prepared me for college in a smaller environment that I feel more comfortable in as a high school student.”
Peyton Randazzo, a West Hall student, said the program “made me realize how different college is from high school.”
“The big difference is the rigor in the classes,” he said. “My high school classes really weren’t very rigorous, but the college classes that I took were rigorous.”
After going through the program this year, Miranda Bisson said she plans to spend her senior year earning her high school diploma and getting more college credits by going to UNG full time. “I feel like I’ve gained a lot of good experience and confidence in my ability as a high school student and especially as a college student,” said Bisson, a North Hall student. “It’s generally pretty intimidating for a high school student to be looking at colleges, but this gave me an opportunity to get into them early and get used to them.”
William Forrester of North Hall will already have a 12-credit head start when he starts his freshman year as a computer science major at Georgia Southern University in the fall.
“Early college has been an excellent opportunity for me to get college credit and help me prepare for college,” he said. “I really enjoyed the professors, and I feel more prepared for college.”
Caitlyn Johnson, who graduated from Flowery Branch last week, said she “grew up a lot through participation in the program.
“It made me grow as an adult, it made me independent with my studies and it made me excited about college,” Johnson said.
Alejandro Lopez, a freshman at East Hall who eventually hopes to work in medicine, is working on his medical front office certificate in the programs and hopes to eventually be a surgeon.
“It was a great experience,” he said. “It taught me many things.”
Hood praised the work of partners in making the program a success.
“Without the partnership of Lanier Technical College and UNG working so well with Hall County, this endeavor would not have been so successful,” she said. “Everyone has worked to make this a successful project.”
The program offers free tuition and books through the Georgia’s Move On When Ready program. Hood said Early College @Jones will be offering additional courses and certificate programs. It is only open to Hall County students at this time.
For more information, contact Hood at firstname.lastname@example.org.