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DeVos ‘thrilled to see’ Valencia’s dual enrollment curriculum

Posted on Wednesday, March 29, 2017 at 6:00 am

By Ken Jackson
Staff Writer
The reach of the dual enrollment agreement between Valencia College and Osceola and

News-Gazette Photo/Martin Maddock
U.S. Department of Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, above left, visited Valencia College on Friday and met with dual enrollment students from various Osceola County high schools in a roundtable discussion where she listened to their stories, aspirations, hopes and fears regarding their future education, loan debt and job prospects.

Orange County school districts now stretches all the way to Washington, D.C.
A handful of Osceola students in the program, which allows them to earn high school and college credit at the same time, got the opportunity to meet with U.S. Department of Education Secretary Betsy DeVos on Friday. She joined Osceola School District Superintendent Debra Pace, Valencia College President Sandy Shugart and Osceola Campus President Kathleen Plinske in a roundtable discussion with seven current dual enrollment students, a cross-section of those from public schools and the home-schooled sector.
The students shared how they’ve been able to get ahead through personal ambition and achievement and cut down the time it will take to receive their bachelor’s degrees, or in some cases graduate degrees and medical certifications.
Poinciana High junior Farrah Lubin said that she’d like to get into UCF’s College of Medicine and become a physician, which would traditionally happen in her late 20’s.
“I’m doing dual enrollment online, so the classes and books are free, and I’m hoping it will help me finish my doctorate degrees at a younger age,” she said.
Gateway High School offers the international baccalaureate program, along with honors and advanced placement courses, but senior Nefcaleb Espinosa said dual enrollment offered him the best path on his way to earning an aeronautical engineering degree at UCF.
“It was the best way to make it possible for me to complete my (Associate of Arts degree) next year,” he said.
The School District reports 789 dual enrollment students, up from about 550 in 2014. It anticipates 19 students will graduate this May with both their high school and Associate of Arts diplomas, four times the number who did that in 2015.
Pace said she used Friday as a chance to do something she loves: bragging on students using tools like dual enrollment to find or create their path.
“This has been a focus the last 3-4 years to open opportunities to our juniors and seniors, to create a bridge to the next step and more opportunities,” she said. “Some of our students may not be considering college, so that first course often is the major hurdle.”
Plinske said that glimpse of life at the next level lessens the culture shock, something Espinosa referred to as “the fear of college.”
“We have to remind ourselves that these are 16-, 17-, 18-year-olds,” Plinske said.
DeVos said she saw the local dual enrollment pipeline as “a way to think differently.
“As education and industries change, we have to be flexible. Government is top-down, one-size-fits-all, so we need to learn that as well,” she said. “Kudos for thinking holistically on this. I’m impressed at the acknowledgement of their individual paths. These students are sticking their necks out into something that can be scary.”
She lauded the local college administrators and staff members.
“I’m thrilled to see what Valencia is doing in and for this community. You have at least one Secretary cheering you on as these students pursue futures they hadn’t dreamt of. I’m entirely impressed with the impact
it has.”
Osceola High’s Trinity Gibbs said taking dual enrollment courses at OHS eliminates the transportation issue of getting to Valencia. It also helped provided her focus early in high school.
“Freshman need to know that they need to start off working, because if they don’t they’ll never have the GPA to be able to do the things we can,” said Gibbs, who is working toward entering Johns Hopkins to become an anesthesiologist.
Liberty High’s Carolyn Herron hopes to be a reporter for a big network, such as Fox or ESPN, and enrolling in dual enrollment helped her come out of her shell.
“Dual enrollment gets you ahead, and doing that helped me gain some confidence,” she said.
Forest Reese is enrolled in a co-op of homeschool families and hopes to major in aerospace engineering. He used the forum to tell DeVos that homeschooled students need to pay for dual enrollment textbooks, and he’ll have to find a way to fund his advanced degree years.
But the students showed they are selling dual enrollment courses to their peers, rather than school counselors having to do it. That’s music to the ears of Amanda Lopez, the district’s coordinator of college and career counseling services.
“Our counselors are doing an amazing job, considering the ratio right now is 437 students per counselor,” she said. “When I hear Trinity bridging a gap from freshmen to Johns Hopkins, we know we’re getting that information about college prep out there.”