DECATUR — Morgan Steffeny plays volleyball and is in track, and come next week, she'll be a freshman in high school and in college at the same time.
Morgan, who will attend MacArthur High School, is one of 52 students in Decatur Public Schools' Prep Academy, a partnership with Richland Community College. Students who successfully compete the four-year program will graduate with both a high school diploma and an associate's degree. A major perk of the program is that the associate's degree will not cost their families a cent, saving them thousands of dollars.
Monday was a family orientation event at Richland, where students received a Richland student handbook, met some of the Richland staff, and took a tour of the college.
“I thought it was really cool to not only be able to get your high school diploma but also get an associate's degree with it,” said Morgan. “It's something you don't hear a lot of. I think it's really cool to be a part of that and see where it takes me.”
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Juggling sports and a heavy course load at the same time will require time management, she said.
“You definitely can't fall behind,” she said. “You have to stay on top of it.”
Her father, Dan, said the family talked about it in the spring when students had to apply for the program.
“We talked about having two sets of homework, plus she's also in sports, so that's going to take away time for her, and how she's going to be able to manage that,” Steffeny said. “She's been in sports for a while, so she knows how to handle the schedule.”
And, he added, it gives her a head start on college, which is the whole idea.
Students in the Prep Academy will take their high school and college classes at the same time, with plenty of support from both Richland and Decatur schools, said Ashley Grayned, executive director of innovative programs and strategic planning. It's been in the works for a while, and these 52 students had to go through an application process.
“We had a Prep Academy signing day event in May,” Grayned said. “Right now, they're going over the do's and don'ts, what to expect, who to lean on, putting names with faces, filling out that last bit of paperwork. Next week, when they start high school, they will be in their first Prep Academy course, which is student development 101, so we're excited about the program. We want to continue to provide the communication and collaboration.”
Speaking to the students, Grayned said the staff at both Richland and Decatur Public Schools wants to remove any barriers to their success and help them get “over the hump” so they will indeed graduate with both a diploma and a degree in four years.
Jalynn Carson said he's ready to tackle the challenge.
“I feel like it's a good opportunity and I'm thankful they're doing this for us,” said the MacArthur freshman.
His mother, Siobhan, said she'd asked Jalynn if he wanted to do it, knowing it was possible he wouldn't be chosen, but she's glad he was.
“When he got picked, it was a great opportunity for all the kids, to be able to experience this at an early age,” she said.
Contact Valerie Wells at (217) 421-7982. Follow her on Twitter: @modgirlreporter