New Palestine High School earns early college endorsement

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NEW PALESTINE — More than 25 students will walk out of New Palestine High School in a few weeks with a college associate degree in hand thanks to their participation in the Early College Program.

Presenting high school students with opportunities to earn college credit, even an associate degree, by the time they graduate high school is an excellent educational opportunity, according to officials from NPHS.

New Palestine High School’s Early College Program began in 2016, and this year will graduate nearly 20 students with an Indiana College Core Certificate from Vincennes University with at least 30 transferable college credits. Additionally, more than 25 students will earn an associate degree in general studies from Vincennes University.

New Palestine High School is one of 20 schools chosen to participate in a United States Department of Education grant funded to support the development of rural early colleges in Indiana through the Rural Early College Network (RECN).

Thanks to the great work by students and educators in the program, the Center of Excellence in Leadership of Learning (CELL) at the University of Indianapolis recently announced their endorsement of the Early College program at NPHS. The local program has been labeled “highly effective” in implementing with fidelity the Eight Core Principles of Early College.

To be considered for an endorsement, the school prepared a portfolio addressing the eight required principles established by CELL, including providing a rigorous curriculum, robust student support, and completion data.

The NPHS program is supervised by assistant principal Nick Mitchaner under the leadership of principal Jim Voelz with the support of Southern Hancock superintendent Lisa Lantrip. They say, due to the hard work of teachers and students, they were able to get positive results when officials from the University of Indianapolis came to assess the school’s Early College program.

“It was a year-long assessment where they came out and did site visits and interviews with students, parents, teachers and administrators,” Mitchaner said.

The endorsement opens up more networking and professional development opportunities to help grow the program at NPHS so officials can offer more credits to students.

“It provides us with a resource through CELL as a professional partner,” Mitchaner said.

Voelz is excited to know that students are earning credits for college and associate degrees, giving them a great start toward their future.

“They’re getting that college classroom experience right here in our school,” Voelz said.

The Early College high school model creates small schools, within a school, designed to give students a jumpstart for the rest of their lives. Students can earn both high school diplomas and up to two years of credit toward bachelor’s or associate degrees.

“I know a few parents I’ve talk to who say their student is planning on going for a masters degree and taking part in the Early College program gives them that head start and obviously, financially, it helps,” Voelz said.

The associate degree also helps students who don’t plan on going to college jump right into the work field, giving them a leg up on others who may not have any degree.

Officials have trained over 130 high schools across the state in the fundamentals of Early College programs and has endorsed 44 Early College programs as of April 2022. Mitchaner noted some 13 NPHS educators are accredited to teach in the program at NPHS and several others have expressed an interest in getting involved.

Business teacher Sarah O’Brien is one of the Early College educators at NPHS and said administrators and the team of teachers have worked hard to grow the program to what it is today.

“There is a definite excitement now that we’ve seen several cohorts graduate with their high school diploma and an associates degree from Vincennes University,” O’Brien said.

She noted students are noticing too, and the incoming freshmen cohort for 2022-23 is bigger than ever.

“It’s such a cost savings opportunity for our families, and the Early College team is always working to improve and grow the program,” O’Brien said.

She’s had students who are part of the Early College as freshmen. Watching them take in everything as newcomers to high school and as being part of the program has been rewarding.

“They use college textbooks and definitely have a sense that they have an increased importance in their work,” O’Brien said. “We still have lots of fun, but we also stress things like self-advocacy, time management and communication skills.”

Once a school receives endorsement, it is expected to further develop its opportunities and will be reviewed for re-endorsement every three years.

“These newly endorsed Early College high schools have documented evidence of quality programs that help high school students graduate high school and accelerate into post-secondary education, whether at a four-year institution or a career/technical program. These students’ accomplishments are true game-changers for them and their families,” Sandy Hillman, CELL Director of Early College said in a press release.

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