High schools find new ways to prepare students for college

By Sobia Siddiqui

Waco Independent School District offers a number of programs and accommodations in all of its high school campuses to prepare students for college.

Through these advanced classes and career classes, students at University High School can be certified nursing assistants by the time they graduate. After observing success in the nursing program, University High School is considering adding a phlebotomy program which would train students to draw and test blood samples preparing them for a career in medical health.

Most students involved in the career programs offered at University High School through Waco ISD graduate with the distinguished achievement diploma, said Maria Grmela, a counselor at University Middle School.

The district offers the Princeton review course for SAT and ACT training either online or in class for free to all of its high school students. For further preparation, pre-advanced and advanced placement courses are available in all high schools and even in some middle schools.

Grmela said advanced and pre-advanced placement classes are offered on the middle school campus, predominantly in the subject Spanish.

Waco ISD also teams up with McLennan Community College and Texas State Technical College to provide students with dual credit classes, work force credit and application assistance.

Both McLennan Community College and Texas State Technical College send out counselors to help students fill out the Common Application as well as the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, and teachers are often sent to the high schools to teach the dual credit classes by offering one-on-one help.

Waco ISD also gives all students access to Career Cruising, a website that provides information about various colleges and career paths.

The counseling staff meets with students in small group settings and encourages all students to attend college night, which offers an array of scholarship information.

S.T.A.R.S. (Students That Are Reaching Success) High School is also a school in Waco ISD that is, according to its website, an “alternative education school that has a shortened schedule to accommodate student with unique lifestyles to complete their high school diploma.”

“We are a dropout recovery program,” said Norma Moon, the principal at S.T.A.R.S. High School.

Students in this school, who have had difficulty completing their education due to outside circumstances, are expected to graduate under the 22-credit plan. Graduating under this minimum plan makes it hard for them to qualify to attend a four-year college because they do not have all the necessary credits required by most four-year colleges.

S.T.A.R.S. High School, however, assists its students with the FAFSA and college entrance exams. Vouchers are available for students who want to take the SAT or ACT but cannot afford it. Students are encouraged to graduate on time, and information is available to students who want to enroll in college and career courses with Texas State Technical College and McLennan Community College.

Waco ISD also offers extensive classes in high schools to help struggling students with their Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills exams so that they can graduate on time.

Even for those students that do not struggle, the time that passes between the last required math class and college puts them behind the curve.

“A lot of students, they pass the TAKS test, and they graduate, and they get to college and have to take remediation,” Sharon Hetherington, coordinator of the college and career readiness department in Waco Independent School District, said. “We put them in a class called AIM, Analytical Integrated Mathematics.”

AIM is designed to help students take four years of math classes and even some college math classes.

The program is made possible through the Texas Gear Up grant, a federal program that is active from 2006 to 2012, designed to inform and prepare Texas students for college as early as possible.

“We just want them to have as much math as they can get,” Hetherington said. “We are very interested in making sure students have all the knowledge that they need to apply to college and get into college, but in addition to that, we want them to be successful after they get there.”

Life skills such as account budgeting, public speaking and even changing tires are taught through the career classes in Waco ISD and McLennan Community College.

“It takes all of that to be successful in college,” Hetherington said.