- Associated Press - Monday, July 20, 2015

GONZALES, La. (AP) - A River Parishes Community College program that lets students simultaneously earn a high school diploma and an associate’s degree will have its largest freshman class yet when school begins Aug. 10.

The Advocate reports (https://bit.ly/1SwRe54) more than 100 ninth-graders have enrolled in what’s called the Early College Option program, a partnership of the community college and the Ascension Parish school district.

“I decided to do this so I could get ahead and fulfill my dream of being an animator,” said Faith Ward, 14, at freshman orientation held at the college last week. Ward, who lives in Gonzales, said she wants to act and write as well.

For Raymond Street, 14, of Prairieville, enrolling in Early College Option was a chance to be more independent.

“Quite honestly, I came here for a challenge. I’m really bored with the normal school teaching,” said Street, who plans to one day be a computer programmer.

One of two such programs in the state, Early College Option lets public high school students attend the college in Gonzales for all four years of high school while they are still considered enrolled in their “home” high schools.

Students enroll in the program a year at a time, and will take both high school and college classes. When they graduate, they’ll have both a high school diploma and an associate’s degree in humanities.

Students who go on to a four-year university will be able to enter as a college junior.

The Ascension Parish program, which began in the 2013-14 school year, will have its first graduating class of seniors in 2017.

The program has grown steadily, from 32 students in its first year to the 183 who will start in August.

“This program is a fantastic program. It’s a growing program and it’s working,” said Julian Surlan, the principal of Early College Option and an employee with the Ascension Parish School Board.

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Information from: The Advocate, https://theadvocate.com

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