Since opening in 2019, GEO Next Generation High School has made its name by busing its students 5 miles west to take courses on the Baton Rouge Community College campus alongside traditional college students, and the high school has now decided to take the next step and move in.
BRCC officials on Thursday announced the arrival of their newest tenant.
The charter school's mission is to help its 400 students earn college credits while in high school, enough for them to obtain an associate degree by the time they accept their high school diploma.
GEO Next Generation also stands out for having its students take classes on the college campus rather than enrolling students in off-site college-level courses.
The new BRCC lease means that GEO students, starting with 25 seniors, are spending entire days on the college campus two or three times a week. School officials plan to add more students every semester. The goal of this early college program is that seniors and perhaps juniors will spend all their time at the college on Florida Boulevard.
“These students represent the future of Baton Rouge, the future of Louisiana, and we’re excited to be part of that in partnership with Baton Rouge Community College,” said Kevin Teasley, president and founder of Indiana-based GEO Academies, which oversees four charter schools in the Baton Rouge area.
The lease, which is costing GEO $36,000 per year, allows its students not only to continue taking the college courses they’ve been in but also take high school courses taught on campus by their high school teachers. These courses have previously been offered only at the high school, 2355 N. Sherwood Forest Drive.
“I’m excited to welcome you here to BRCC and have you on campus to be able to fully engage in the college experience,” said BRCC Chancellor Willie Smith.
GEO approached BRCC this year about leasing space at the college. Teasley said the BRCC lease is a less expensive alternative to expanding its $11.5 million facility — and the estimated cost of an expansion shot up during the pandemic. Embedding itself on the BRCC campus furthers the mission of the high school.
Although rare, there are other colleges with high schools on campus, where high school students take college courses with traditional college students. River Parishes Community College in Gonzales and South Louisiana Community College have full-time high schools on their campuses that serve students from their local school districts.
Those schools, however, are selective in whom they admit, whereas GEO Next Generation is an open admissions high school.
About 250 out of 400 GEO Next Generation students are expected to take college courses this school year. Six of those are on track to earn associate degrees when they graduate in the summer — the high’s school’s first graduating class. All six students spoke Thursday about their experience.
“This program introduces it to students so they know exactly what college is like,” said Quintasia McCray, who has earned 63 college credits.
“Students who don’t know what college is like believe it’s a more intense version of high school that is unbearable,” said Morgan Gaspard, who has earned 51 college credits. “But I feel like, with the right support system, it can be a fun experience.”
Ceaira Ravish, who has also 51 credits, said being on the verge of earning a high school and a college degree is especially meaningful because her parents had children as teenagers and didn't finish high school.
“This allowed me to become a role model for my siblings so they know that this is possible,” Ravish said.
Teasley said teenagers often can’t see themselves in college, which he said leads some to drop out of school early.
“They think, ‘Why should I complete high school? I’m not going to college. High school really doesn’t matter,’ ” Teasley said.
Early college programs like GEO’s allow students to get “six years of education in four years' time” and all for free, he said.
BRCC and GEO officials spoke Thursday morning in the community college’s Bonne Santé Wellness Center. In addition to serving as the gym for the college, the building has several unused classrooms that the high school has now taken over.
Smith said the classrooms GEO is leasing are vacant because of enrollment declines over time at BRCC, which has about 9,000 students, with more than half taking their classes online.