PRESTONSBURG – Imagine graduating high school with an associate degree.
Imagine graduating college with an associate degree two weeks before your high school graduation.
That’s the reality of a group of students from the Floyd County School District appropriately called the “Elite 8.”
Eight high school seniors from across Floyd County will participate in Big Sandy Community and Technical College’s commencement ceremonies on Friday, May 9, at the Mountain Arts Center, weeks before getting their diplomas at their respective high school graduations. This will mark the inaugural class of the Floyd County Early College Academy.
“It’s a unique experience,” said Blake Baldridge, 18, of Blue River. The Prestonsburg High School student will graduate with an Associate in Arts degree from BSCTC. He plans to attend the University of Kentucky next year and major in mine engineering. “This is an opportunity that I thought I would never have.”
Criteria for earning a spot in the Floyd County Early College Academy is stringent. Students must not only meet the criteria for admission to BSCTC, but also meet GPA requirements, and community involvement and extra-curricular activities.
“This has really stressed the importance of the ACT test to our students as freshmen and sophomores,” said April Steele, coordinator of the Gifted and Talented program and Floyd County Early College Academy liaison with Floyd County Schools. “This has been one of the best things to ever happen in our school district.”
The Floyd County Early College Academy started two years ago as a partnership between Big Sandy Community and Technical College and the Floyd County School District. Because of the partnership and strong working relationship, students do not incur any cost.
“We wanted to extend learning and provide students the tools to be successful,” said Dr. Henry Webb, superintendent of Floyd County Schools. “We are very thankful for the partnership with Big Sandy Community and Technical College. We had a big dream and none of this would be possible without their continued support.”
Students are fully immersed in campus life at BSCTC. They are transported daily to the college’s Prestonsburg campus and take 17 credit hours a semester.
“College is more about what you do with the opportunity,” said Haley Howell, 18, of Prestonsburg. The Prestonsburg High School student plans on attending Morehead State University and become a nurse practitioner. “I think we have handled it well, but it was an adjustment.”
Troy Williamson, 18, of McDowell, is a student at South Floyd High School and will graduate with an Associate in Arts degree from BSCTC. He said high school offered him limited curriculum and attending BSCTC him to “develop and open my perspective to a new level.”
Williamson, who will graduate with an Associate in Arts degree from BSCTC, will attend Columbia College in Chicago in the fall where he will major in vocal performance and art management.
Brooke Hatfield, 18, of Prestonsburg, will continue her studies at BSCTC in the fall where she hopes to pursue a career in nursing.
“It’s amazing that I could have the opportunity to start nursing school right out of high school,” said Hatfield, a student at Prestonsburg High School. “I feel fortunate to have this opportunity to get two years of college for free.”
Hatfield, who will earn an Associate in Science degree from BSCTC, hopes to earn a baccalaureate degree from Morehead State University in nursing before entering the workforce.
Austin Bailey is one of youngest of the graduates. The 17-year-old Prestonsburg High School student has already been accepted in the nursing program at Morehead State University this fall. He will graduate with an Associate in Science degree from BSCTC.
“I’m very grateful for the opportunity and thrilled I am in the nursing program at Morehead State,” he said. “I couldn’t have asked for anything better.”
Ashley Crager, 17, of Martin, is a student at Allen Central High School. She plans to study pre-dentistry at Morehead State University.
“In high school, you get a lot of study guides,” said Crager, who will graduate with an Associate in Science degree from BSCTC. “It’s a lot different in college, but I’m very thankful to the faculty who always extended a hand to help us through this.”
Joslyn Isaac, 18, of Hi Hat, will graduate with an Associate in Science degree from BSCTC. The South Floyd High School student plans on attending the University of Kentucky and majoring in biology. Her goal is to eventually go to medical school and become an emergency room physician or orthopedic surgeon.
“This has been the best experience of my academic life,” said Isaac. “I don’t see anything comparing to this other than medical school.”
Ashleigh Hayton, 17, of Oil Springs, also wants to be a physician. The Prestonsburg High School student will attend Morehead University where she plans to major in biology and attend medical school.
“The faculty here at Big Sandy were so helpful,” she said. “They truly care about your success.”
Dr. Tom Vierheller, a professor of biology at BSCTC, said he found the Floyd County Early College Academy students extremely gifted and motivated when they entered his class.
“I have had the pleasure of seeing these students grow in maturity and better study skills through this program,” he said. “The Floyd County Early College Academy offers students challenging classes that will help them be better prepared for future college work as they complete their Associate Degrees with us at Big Sandy.”
Dr. George D. Edwards, president and CEO of Big Sandy Community and Technical College, said the partnership with the Floyd County Early College Academy demonstrates a commitment to student success.
“This partnership allows high school students to experience college with the support of a high school environment,” said Dr. Edwards. “We’re very proud of the students and honored to partner with the Floyd County School district in this exciting endeavor.”