Sign for Tougaloo College, the site of JPS' Early College High School. Photo by Kaitlyn Fowler.
With the beginning of every school year comes new opportunities, excitement, and a chance at a better education. During the 2018-2019 school year, Jackson Public Schools is partnering with Tougaloo College to implement all of these through the Early College High School Program. On August 8th, 42 high school freshmen walked onto Tougaloo’s campus for their first day of college course classes along with the state’s high school graduation requirements.
This free program allows students to graduate high school with an associate’s degree or up to two years of college credits towards a bachelor’s degree. Currently, only ninth graders are enrolled in the small, independent high school program. Jackson Public Schools states that “new students will be added each year until the program has students in grades 9-12.”
Only four other early-college programs currently exist in the state: Natchez at Copiah-Lincoln Community College, Mayhew at East Mississippi Community College, Clarksdale at Coahoma Community College, and Vicksburg at Hinds Community College.
JPS hopes that the early-college program will assist in raising the district’s graduation rate. As a district, Jackson Public Schools has a 71% graduation rate compared to the state’s 83% graduation rate. Providing numerous students with dual enrollment course offerings directly benefits academic performance and high school completion. Jobs for the Future, a nonprofit academic organization, found that early-college programs like the one at Tougaloo have a graduation rate of about 90%.
Acceptance into the program is not an easy feat. To even be considered for ECHS, students are required to submit an online application and an online reference from school staff, fulfill admission criteria, and, finally, participate in an interview process. External selection agencies then conduct the final selection for incoming freshmen.
Students, parents, and administration alike are very excited about the first year of the program. The principal of Early College High School, Chinelo Evans, expresses high hopes for the program and the students attending. Before becoming principal at ECHS, Evans previously served as the Executive Director of School Improvement. She states, “We believe that pretty soon you’ll see these leaders… go out and make Jackson the best it can be.” The engaging attitude from administrators has directly impacted the sense of community in the school.
Tifani Keith, a parent of a student attending ECHS, discusses her family’s positive experiences with the school. “Right now it’s delightful. Because the school is so small, we were able to engage directly with the school,” she praises.
She recalls memories of immediate interaction between the school’s staff, students, and parents. Building community between the school environment and the student’s home has been an initial goal of Early College High School. Due to the limited size of the freshmen-only class this year, ECHS administrators are able to develop intimate relationships with students’ families.
The flexibility of the schedule at the program allows for unique experiences for each student. Fridays at the school are often used for interactive field trips and enrichment programs. Additionally, students have collaborative and independent work times allowing for a balanced skill set that is directly applicable to life after high school. Keith expounds on the students’ love for the program, even going as far to say, “students say that they’re sad for the weekend, just because they love the school so much.”
The future of society lies in our children’s education, and the Early College High School program has positively impacted this future early on. Without a doubt, the Early College High School program at Tougaloo has made the student’s education, interests, and experiences their main priority. Programs like these are necessary in benefitting the overall education experience of not only Jackson Public School students, but students worldwide.