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Getting a Leg-Up on College: 17 UCHS Sophomores Sign on to Early College Experience Program

Early College Experience signing day collage

Getting a Leg-up on College:

Seventeen UCHS sophomores sign on to Early College Experience program

By Nancy Cambria
Director of Communications


Many high schools celebrate their athletes committing to college early to play sports with official “signing days.” But University City High School and St. Louis Community College decided to put a twist on that ritual.

On Thursday, April 17, they held a signing day for high school scholars who commit to enrolling early to college.

Seventeen University City High School sophomores signed on to the Early College Experience program. Most of them attended a special signing ceremony held at St. Louis Community College-Forest Park.

With Superintendent Sharonica Hardin-Bartley, various school leaders and proud parents on hand, the students each signed an enrollment pledge to work hard, seek help with their coursework, and stay on track with their college studies and high school activities. When they graduate from University City High School in 2021, they can potentially earn enough college credits for both a high school diploma and a two-year associate's Degree – at no cost to them.

This is the second group to enroll in the Early College Experience program in partnership with St. Louis Community College-Forest Park. The first group will graduate in May 2020.

The program is competitive. Sophomores must have a minimum 3.0 GPA and must formally apply. Grades, commitment and academic drive are taken into consideration. The students are keenly aware that the program can give them a leg-up after high school and significantly reduce future college expenses if they decide to go on to earn higher degrees.

Signing day girls Take Malina Bryant and Ramata Ly who want to eventually apply to the accelerated medical program at the University of Missouri-Kansas City. In that program, students graduate with bachelor’s and M.D. degree in just six years. But Malina and Ramata will already have many needed credits before they even start the program.

“This means a lot to me, I’m really excited for a headstart in my college education,” Malina said after she signed her letter of commitment with UCHS principal Michael Peoples at her side. “It cuts the cost by a great amount, and I’m happy about that.”

Ramata said the Early College Experience program also has the potential to open doors to more financial resources in the future.

 “I feel we will get more college scholarships because we got accepted to this program and we are doing good,” Ramata said.

Studies show many students start college but are unable to complete their degrees due to financial hardship. University City Schools, which strives to personalize the educational experience, felt this barrier needed to be addressed in high school so all students have the opportunity to engage in rigorous college-level courses, said UCHS Dean of Students Samuel Martin.

“The program truly promotes equity. It levels the playing field."

This is particularly important for first-generation college students who might not envision themselves as ready for college. Additionally, dual credit and early college enrollment open other pathways for rigorous coursework beyond taking AP classes, Martin said.

“The program truly promotes equity. It levels the playing field,” he said. "The students can learn about themselves as scholars. First generation college students find they are really goal-oriented, focused and highly motivated.”

During the signing ceremony, two current members of the program, juniors Nyjah Hudson and Erianna Funches, gave their peers advice on how to succeed. Time management is critical. But it’s also important to team-up and support their peers in the program so they can learn the material together. They said their peers must utilize their advisors and counselors for help – that’s what they are there for.

This includes making full use of UCHS Counselor Katy-Jane Johnson, who will advise the students through the program for the next two years both at the high school and at the community college so they make the milestone.

 “They’re learning how to balance an extremely rigorous program, and time management, and all of their outside activities,” said Johnson who said the program pushes them to be rigorous scholars with one another. “They have each other, and they are learning to lean on each other.”

According to national data, 90 percent of early college participants graduate high school versus just 78 percent of students nationally. Nearly all earn some form of college credit. And a little under a third of students graduate high school with an associate’s degree or other postsecondary credentials.

The new group of UCHS signees will begin their coursework this summer on the campus of STLCC – Forest Park. During their junior year, the students will take dual-enrollment courses on the high school campus. These courses will earn them high school and college credit simultaneously. Between their junior and senior years, the students will transition to the STLCC-Forest Park campus for the remainder of the program, taking six credit hours in the summer and a full course load during their senior year.

The signing day was especially moving for parents.

I’m thankful that the district was able to communicate with the community college and just help the students out. It’s a really good opportunity, and we don’t take it for granted, said mom Aquila Davis.

Her daughter, Jada Glass, wants to be a journalist someday.

“I know I can do it,” Jada said of the early college program. “I feel accomplished - like my hard work is paying off.”

The following sophomores (UCHS Class of 2021) were accepted into the Early College Experience program: Ousmane Ba, Lawson Barnard, Malina Bryant, Nevaeh Daniels, Jada Glass, Essence Green, Nakayla Griffin, Jared Grove, Andrez Henderson, Ja’na Kelly, Tania Lopez-Ryna, Ramata Ly, Sydni Martin, De’lanna Redden, Jadae Robinson, Justice Strickland and Brennyn Wilke.