Local academy students earn college degrees before graduating high school

Academy of the Redwoods students, from left to right, Kyra Deveny, Ellie Pumpkin, Tori McConnell, Ann Meyer and Danielle Ignacio will graduate in June with several college credits under their belt. Meyer and Ignacio earned their associates degrees from College of the Redwoods on Saturday.
Academy of the Redwoods students, from left to right, Kyra Deveny, Ellie Pumpkin, Tori McConnell, Ann Meyer and Danielle Ignacio will graduate in June with several college credits under their belt. Meyer and Ignacio earned their associates degrees from College of the Redwoods on Saturday. Alison Hodges — submitted

Before they graduate from high school, some Academy of the Redwoods students received their college degrees and certificates on Saturday at College of the Redwoods.

These academy students are now planning to attend colleges throughout the nation with their general education classes under their belt, allowing them to begin their major courses from the start of their college careers.

Among the students in the College of Redwoods graduating class of 2017 were Fortuna resident Ann Meyer, 16, and Eureka resident Danielle Ignacio, 18, who both received their associate’s degree Saturday.

Ignacio said ability to take college-level courses through the academy gave her guidance on what career path she would take. Ignacio plans to study kinesiology for pre-physical therapy at San Diego State University.

“At first I really wanted to be a doctor, but after taking college classes at College of the Redwoods, I found what I’m interested in and it’s real helpful,” Ignacio said.

For Eureka resident Tori McConnell, 17, who transferred to Academy of the Redwoods after her sophomore year at Alder Grove Charter School, taking college courses had the opposite effect on her.

When she began at the academy, she said she never thought she would study to be a doctor. Now, she is set to attend UC Davis to major in neurobiology, physiology and behavioral health as part of a pre-medical program.

“Now I am looking in a career in medicine,” McConnell said. “The environment really challenges you to evaluate yourself and your own motives and what capabilities you do have. It really pushes you.”

Academy of the Redwoods is a public school and is one of about 200 early college high schools throughout the nation in which students are concurrently enrolled in both high school and college courses, according to academy academic adviser and teacher Alison Hodges.

“Different from dual enrollment, AR students are taking college classes with other college students, taught by a college professors on a college campus,” Hodges said. “Early college high schools prepare students for successful career and educational futures through full integration of high school and college.”

The academy formed in 2005 as part of a partnership between the Humboldt County Office of Education, Fortuna Union High School District and College of the Redwoods, and was initially funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

Hodges said students normally take their high school courses and some college preparatory classes in their first year. As they move through the years, more college courses are added until they are earning up to 11 college units each semester, Hodges said.

Meyer said the second year at the academy was the hardest for her as students are typically taking six high school courses and two college courses. Meyer said many of the college students and professors don’t realize they are high school students until they tell them.

“It’s a really interesting experience to be immersed in a college environment and interact with college students,” Meyer said.

Meyer took it a step further, serving as president of College of the Redwoods’ student council. Fortuna resident Ellie Pumpkin, 17, also served as the vice president of records on the council.

Pumpkin came just two units short of obtaining her associates degree, but is now heading to UC Berkeley with most of her general education courses completed, allowing her to focus on her major in environmental science with an emphasis in sustainability of natural resources.

Pumpkin also obtained a state seal of biliteracy in Spanish for having studied and attained proficiency in two or more languages. Ignacio also obtained a state seal of biliteracy for Tagalog, which is a language originating from the Tagalog people of the Philippines.

Also among the 34 academy students who will be graduating on June 1 is Loleta resident Kyra Deveny, who earned 54 college units and plans to major in studio art at UC Davis.

Hodges said many of the graduating students are graduating with honors and will be attending schools such as Humboldt State University, Cornell, UC Davis, UC Berkeley, UC Santa Cruz, San Francisco State University, and Hult International Business School, among others.

But not all the academy’s students will be attending college after they graduate. Hodges said one student obtained their emergency medical technician certificate from College of the Redwoods on Saturday.

“We really try to serve students with a variety of educational and personal goals,” Hodges said. “We’re also a pathway to College of the Redwood’s Career Technical Education program.”

The Academy of the Redwoods graduation is set to take place on June 1 at the College of the Redwoods gym at 5 p.m.

More information about Academy of the Redwoods can be found online at ar.fuhsdistrict.org/

Will Houston can be reached at 707-441-0504.

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