OPELOUSAS — In August, 100 students at J.S. Clark Leadership Academy will do what few high schoolers have the opportunity to do — start college early and earn an associate degree in tandem with their high school diploma.
Through a partnership with South Louisiana Community College, the ninth- and 10th-grade students at the public charter school will start the 2015-16 school year on SLCC’s T.H. Harris campus. As part of the partnership, students will take college courses taught by SLCC faculty while simultaneously fulfilling their high school coursework taught by J.S. Clark faculty.
By the time they graduate high school, the students will have had the opportunity to also fulfill requirements for an associate degree.
The program is modeled on SLCC’s existing program with Lafayette Parish School System students, the Early College Academy, which began in the 2008-09 school year.
The J.S. Clark program is a bit different in that students have more options to major in business or general studies, as well as choose one of three technical programs in welding; heating, air-conditioning and refrigeration; or electrical technician, said Tiffanie Lewis, J.S. Clark Leadership Academy CEO and founder.
Jayme Pierre, 15, knows he wants to pursue the electrical training courses.
“I want to be a nurse, but I wanted a Plan B,” Pierre said. “The electrician work interests me.”
Lewis said there are spots for 100 of her students in the program, and 90 of those spots are filled with her current eighth- and ninth-grade students who will advance a grade level next year.
“We only have 10 slots available and we already have 70 applicants for next year,” Lewis said.
The charter school started in 2012 and enrolls more than 200 students in grades five through nine.
Like Pierre, Jamie Andrus, 16, will start her 10th-grade year on the T.H. Harris campus. She and her fellow freshman classmates visited the T.H. Harris campus Tuesday for a news conference about the partnership.
The teen joked with SLCC Chancellor Natalie Harder that she is looking forward to the relaxed dress code on the college campus.
Andrus grew serious with Harder as she told the chancellor that she appreciates the opportunity the new program will provide.
“I feel like this is a great opportunity to graduate with a high school diploma and a degree,” Andrus said.
“I want to go on to a four-year college. I don’t want to stop here.”
Harder, Lewis and officials such as state Rep. Ledricka Thierry, D-Opelousas, Mayor Reginald Tatum and St. Landry Parish President Bill Fontenot encouraged the students to embrace the head start they’ve been given to achieve their career goals.
“This is a place where 100 percent of you will graduate from college,” Harder told the students. “You have a lot of work to do.”
Lewis told the students they will be poised for a higher income potential than their peers by the time they graduate high school, and then ribbed them a little.
“When you all become doctors, lawyers, electricians, welders and air conditioning people, I don’t expect to pay,” she joked.
Students will have the option to choose their college study track with the technical courses also leading to industry-based certification to enter the workforce or to continue their college education. More options could be added in the future based on student demand, Harder said later in a news release.
Follow Marsha Sills on Twitter, @Marsha_Sills.