- Associated Press - Sunday, June 24, 2018

TULSA, Okla. (AP) - About 20 rising Union High School sophomores were recently charged with building the tallest, free-standing structure they could out of sticks, tape and marshmallows.

They also began to build their college transcripts. The students were building their towers at Tulsa Community College’s southeast campus, part of their first steps as the first group of Early College High School at Union.

For many of them, they’ll be the first in their families to go to college. And they’ll be going in their early teens. It’s a reality that they’re well aware of and won’t take for granted. They’re aware of how expensive college can be and how this gives them a chance to reduce their potential student loan debt.

Andrew Niemiec took charge of his tower-building group. Perhaps it was fitting. He wants to be an engineer, a dream he thinks he may now be able to afford with Early College High School.

Niemiec was flanked by three first-generation Americans, Jimena and Fernanda Luna and Kimberlin Rosas. All three are the daughters of Mexican immigrants.

Rosas said it will save her time if she wants to go to law school.

The Luna twins held a similar perspective.

“I think it sets us apart from a lot of other people,” Fernanda Luna told the Tulsa World . “I think we will have better opportunities.”

Her sister, Jimena Luna, said “I think it’s the smarter choice. If you have that chance, why take the long way?”

It will certainly be a hard row to hoe for the students. They’ll have to work for seven semesters to earn an associate’s degree and manage dual-enrollment at Tulsa Community College and Union High School.

Those Union students aren’t the only ones taking college courses this fall. A class of Broken Arrow students recently sat at Northeastern State University Broken Arrow, learning about physiology and nutrition.

Like their Union counterparts, they haven’t had much of a summer break. School has continued in earnest. The program is taught by TCC and adjunct professors at NSU. It gives the students a chance to earn an associate’s degree, putting them halfway to a bachelor’s by the time they leave high school.

In Broken Arrow, unlike in Union, the students aren’t targeted based on whether they would be first-generation college students. Instead, they apply using college admission tests.

The students, for their part, said they like the college courses over the summer better than their high school classes.

Part of the reason: they attend the largest high school in the state.

“I like the college setting a little bit more than the high school setting. At least in these classes, they’re smaller,” said Trinity Fulton.

“In a lot of the classes, if you don’t understand something, it’s really easy to go out there and teach it to yourself.”

They, like their Union counterparts, seem to have life after they get their diplomas all figured out.

Fulton wants to work in computer science. Two of her classmates, Benjamin Homold and Nathaniel Ashe, want to be an FBI agent and a baseball statistician respectively.

Ashe said that, even after one week of class, he’s felt like not showing up, but “I still want that associate’s degree. That will definitely help. I won’t have to pay as much for college and go in for less amount of time.”

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Information from: Tulsa World, http://www.tulsaworld.com

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