Palo Alto’s Early College High School programs are up and running

By Ami Sarabia
Pulse Staff Reporter

Photo of Frank L. Madla students working on assignments. Photo By Ami Sarabia.
Frank L. Madla students working on assignments. Photo By Ami Sarabia.

This Fall, Palo Alto College has partnered with four high schools to offer Early College High School programs. Incoming ninth grade students will have the opportunity to attend high school and earn college credit.

Harlandale High School has become the newest addition to PAC’s partnerships, along with Southside ISD, Somerset ISD and the Frank L. Madla High School, a New Frontiers Charter School. Of the four partnerships, only Frank L. Madla High School resides on the Palo Alto campus in the portables next to the Ozuna Building.

“The goal is for students to graduate high school with a diploma in one hand and an associate’s degree in the other hand,” said Abel Gonzales, the former director of ECHS programs. Gonzales recently took a position at UTSA as director of outreach programs.

Students enrolled in the high schools have the same expectations as regular college students. The Early College program takes gradual steps into college, making sure that a 14-year-old student does not become overwhelmed. Students have no financial obligation. Courses are free. The only requirements to participate in the program are that the students must be incoming ninth graders, and they must be tested with the Texas Success Initiative exam, which places the students into college-level course work.

“We’re a small campus. I make sure the students and the professors have what they need, whether it’s with supplies or textbooks,” said Jeff Flores, principal of Frank L. Madla Early College High School.

Every Fall, Frank L. Madla has an information session. In the Spring, they release an application where students are asked to write a short summary of why they would like to participate in the Early College program. In the Summer, Frank L. Madla has a bridge program for a week, where students get to experience what it’s like to be a college student before enrolling in the program.

The Gateway to College program that focused on at-risk students was recently cut to place Palo Alto’s main focus on the Early College programs.

“Gateway to College was the founding program that enabled us to have these partnerships,” said Gonzales. “We don’t see it as a loss. We see it as gaining an additional partnership, and we’re really happy about that.”

The students are being prepared academically and socially. During a student’s freshman and sophomore years, they are being supervised with other students of their same grade level. As the students mature, they are encouraged to interact with Palo Alto College activities and students.

“I would recommend this program to other students because it’s a great opportunity to obtain your associate’s degree, and it’s free, too,” said Tommy Ortiz, a student at Frank L. Madla. Every week Frank L. Madla informs the parents about their child’s progress.

“The program focuses on education. You get the quality student/teacher time. It’s convenient to be here. I like it,” said Illeana Rodriguez, another student at Frank L. Madla.

Principal Flores is pleased with the new partnership. “My main job is to make sure these students accept that they’re made to do great things in this world,” said Flores. “ Every student here has a champion, either in me, the counselor, the nurse, the secretary and the teachers. It’s important that the students know that everyone here believes in them.”