ATHENS — The Murchison Foundation came through where the state did not.
Athens High School Principal Jami Ivey told school board members last week the Murchison Foundation donated $140,500 to the school this year to help students get ready for college.
Not only get ready for college, but also go to college.
The foundation donation includes $100,000 for the College for All program, which helps AHS juniors and seniors pay for tuition and fees at Trinity Valley Community College, whether the classes are taught at the high school or college campus.
The money also provides funds to allow the high school to have teachers at the campus until 6:30-7 p.m. to help those students.
This year, Ivey went from being in charge of the school’s Early College High School — which is a separate program — to being the high school principal. When she moved, she said she wanted to bring some of those college ideas to the main campus.
Money for college, however, is not in the operating budget, so the school applied for a Texas Education Agency (TEA) grant.
“We applied for that and were kind of devastated that we didn’t get it,” Ivey said, during an interview this week with Henderson County Now.
The Murchison Foundation stepped into the gap.
“If we didn’t have the Murchison Foundation, it would be difficult to do this,” Ivey said.
“This” includes having 62 students at the main campus enrolled in college classes this semester, including five taking a full load of college courses.
The rest of the foundation donation was geared toward helping students get ready for college, with $30,000 for college placement testing — including money for every junior to take the PSAT this year — and $10,000 for scholarships through the Athens Academic Renaissance Organization. The final $500 was a gift to the senior Last Blast.
College for All and Early College High School
There are actually two separate programs now helping AHS students attend college:
– Early College High School, which started five years ago and must be certified by the state. This program has specific rules about who is eligible and operates almost as a “school within a school.”
– College for All, which started this year and does not have to be certified by the state. There are no eligibility requirements, but state rules only allow juniors and seniors to participate.
At this point, the Murchison Foundation is providing funding for both programs. Ivey said the foundation donated about $120,000 for Early College the past two years. There are currently about 260 students in the Early College program.
The beginning of the Early College program mirrors the start of College for All. The district hoped to get a grant but didn’t, and the Murchison Foundation stepped in to help.
Last year, the first class of AHS graduates came out of the Early College and 83 percent of them had associate’s degrees. Ivey said the state average for graduating with a degree is around 15 percent.
“The graduation rate is phenomenal,” Director of Curriculum Dr. Janie Sims said this week.
“Our community has looked at that (success),” Ivey said, “and I really believe from the things that we’ve heard that parents would like to see some of that at the main campus, which I agree with.”
A program this ambitious doesn’t succeed without a lot of help, and Murchison Foundation members aren’t the only ones stepping up.
Ivey said TVCC has been very helpful. The college waives tuition for the first six credit hours (two classes) and is invested in trying to make the program work.
“From many meetings we have to try and schedule classes to even trying to work with us a little with some books, they have been a great partner,” Ivey said.
And how do you get students from one side of the city to the other? AHS has a bus that runs like a shuttle between the high school and the college that works for both Early College and College for All.
“That is something this district has shown that they are behind and have paid for the transportation,” Ivey said.
And then there are the teachers who sign up to take shifts after school to help the students with their homework and dealing with college coursework.
“You can’t just put our kids out at the college without giving them some sort of support mechanism,” Ivey said. “Our demographics are such that we have to have that; most of our kids can’t go home and get help.”
But from top to bottom, the vision is the same.
“My ultimate goal is that if a student wants to go to college and can’t that we can help them no matter who they are,” she said. “Or even if they would like to go to college as a benefit of being at Athens High School, we would like to pay for it. That’s what we are trying to go toward.”
“The only way to change somebody’s life is through education,” she said.
(Part 2 to come tomorrow: The drive for college, changing cultures and overcoming obstacles.)