The program began as the Summer Discovery Program thanks to the work of DeeDee Bernal, Traci Younts, Coastal Bend College’s Ann Richmond and Jeanene Jones, and St. Mary’s Laura Orchard, Becky and Stan Simonson and a TEA grant.
More than 100 students, as young as rising freshmen, earned between 6-9 hours of Workforce classes during the first summer. During the second summer, those students could take any classes (workforce or academic), if they met the academic requirements. During the second summer, a new high school cohort began and the middle school ISP grant was started at Coastal Bend College with Jeanene Jones and Jayne Duryea running that program.
In that same time frame, Beeville ISD, St. Mary’s and CBC developed and were awarded an Early College High School program, under the leadership of then college President Dr. Thomas Baynum and Ann Richmond. According to Becky Simonson, “the Early College High School had a lot of potential for Beeville, but there were some significant issues for a small community.” In any case, the Early College High School was put on the shelf for later consideration.
When the 21st Century Grant was up for renewal, Bernal, Jones and Stan Simonson agreed to wait a year to rework the after school program before reapplying for the 21st Century Grant.
“This is where you know that God is on your side,” said Younts, ACE program director. By waiting for a year, the grant application became more generous and more flexible. “We really struck a home run, bringing in over $7 million for the five-year program.”
This year, Taylor Castillo graduated as the A.C. Jones valedictorian. Last year, she graduated from CBC with a 4.0 grade point with her associates degree. Taylor started college the summer of her high school freshman year with the SDA/ACE program.
Alfredo Rodriguez will graduate from CBC in August with his associates in science, at the same time he will be starting his high school senior year.
Alfredo got his start at college even younger than Taylor.
He was in the ISP middle school program before earning college credit with SDA/ACE.
Alfredo and Taylor are the exception by earning their associates a full year before graduating high school, but they are just one of many students graduating from CBC while still in high school. “I do not know the exact number, but at least 100 students have graduated college with a certificate or degree while still in high school, thanks to ACE,” said Becky Simonson.
Laura Orchard said, “It was easily a hundred and probably more... this is what all the kids should be doing.”
In Oklahoma, Orchard’s nieces and nephews all completed junior college and high school concurrently. “It just makes sense,” according to Orchard, “these kids can use their college scholarships to go on and get their advanced degrees, like kids in other states do.”
Becky Simonson added, “We are completely innovative as to what is going on in Texas. Early College High Schools are primarily about serving students that will attend universities. Our program serves students irrespective of their career path.”
More than 150 students applied for dual credit this summer from ACE.
Noreen Brown, at SMACS, said, “This program is the best opportunity that has ever been available to Beeville children. The most important thing is keeping this fabulous program running for years to come.”