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COUNCIL BLUFFS, Iowa (AP) — A month into its first full trimester, Council Bluffs Community School District’s Early College Academy seems to be a hit.

Academy students attend college and high school equivalency classes at Iowa Western Community College as high school juniors and seniors and will earn associate degrees and high school diplomas at the same time. Those who pursue certificates rather than degrees will finish their college credits sooner, The Daily Nonpareil reported. The students get free meals at the college and have a workroom/lounge where they can go between classes.

The academy currently has 10 students, including four pre-nursing, two welding, one broadcasting and one psychology student, among others. They have already registered for the summer session.

“We will add 27 students in the fall,” said Council Bluffs Superintendent Vickie Murillo.

The district received 71 applications for the academy’s second cohort, including several from outside the district, Murillo said. She plans to use 25 spots for district students and is open to accepting a few applicants from other schools. Those accepted will be notified in early April “so they can apply for Pottawattamie Promise if they don’t get accepted,” she said, mentioning the Iowa West Foundation initiative that offers scholarships to Iowa Western.

The current students are doing “fantastic,” according to Mary Aney, interim coordinator, and say they are glad to be in the program.

Mayrin Corea, a junior at Thomas Jefferson High School, was surprised by the opportunity.

“I never heard about kids going to college early, and you can get your degree and your high school diploma at the same time,” she said. “I thought it was a really cool opportunity. I knew it was going to save me a lot of money in the long run.”

“I thought it was a really good opportunity to further my education,” said Macy Kephart, a junior from Abraham Lincoln High School. “With the smaller classes, we get more of the attention we need. My classes have like 12 kids.”

One of her classes at A.L. had 30 students in it, she said.

“It was a head start — that’s the way I thought about it,” said Zach Potter, also an A.L. junior.

He said the school is nice, and he likes being more independent and having an opportunity to take classes in his field, which is broadcasting. He also likes the smaller classes.

“For me, it’s more hands-on stuff with welding,” said Isaac Lidgett, an A.L. senior who has a day job and is working on a welding certificate at night. “I love it. The first day we were here, we started welding. Even if you didn’t know how to weld, you knew the basics within a week.”

“Isaac is a senior, but he’s done with all of the (high school) credits he needs,” said Aney.

Because he is pursuing a certificate instead of a degree, Isaac will finish this year, Murillo said.

Isaac’s father, Larry, has become a big fan of the program.

“He wants to be hands-on and wasn’t really looking at going to college,” Larry Lidgett said. “When they said they were going to offer it, we pretty much left it up to Isaac, and he did it.”

He said he was glad Isaac was pursuing higher education and thinks he will get a better job because he is learning a trade.

The students said they don’t miss being at their high schools.

“I’m still involved in sports (at A.L.), and I can still do that and go to college,” said Jade Baker.


Information from: The Daily Nonpareil,