PSJA ISD opened its first Early College High School in 2008 with the goal of removing all educational barriers and ensuring that students get a head start on college free of cost. Extending this goal to all students, PSJA ISD now offers Early College at all eight high school campuses, making it the only wall-to-wall Early College district in Texas.
“All eight campuses offer dual enrollment that can lead to a college certificate, associates degree, or up to 60 college hours, but students may need to be bussed to the Dr. King PSJA College and University Center for specialized programs,” said PSJA Executive Officer for College Readiness Dr. Linda Uribe-Treviño.
PSJA ISD students can earn as many as 60 college credits, allowing them to enter college as juniors. This saves the students and parents two years of college expenses, including classes, books, transportation, and tutoring.
According to Dr. Uribe Treviño, this saves students and their parents thousands of dollars in college tuition and expenses.
“PSJA is committed to our students’ success,” Dr. Uribe Treviño said. “We set them up for a favorable outcome by providing all students with college access, textbooks, transportation, student support systems, laptops, and internet access.”
A strong advising program is also a key component of the PSJA Early College Program’s success and the overall success of the students. The advising process starts in eighth grade with students exploring the different options and their interests.
In the second semester of freshman year, students can start taking core college classes. In 11th grade, the students narrow down and start taking classes in their chosen program. In the event a student changes their mind as to which program they want to pursue, they are guided by their high school counselor and South Texas College specialist.
“A lot of the dual credit staff are PSJA employees,” said Adriana Garcia, PSJA ISD director for career and technical education. “This helps retain our students within the programs. For some of these programs, the coursework they go through is with the same teacher. So, the rapport and the relationships between teacher and students really helps as our recruitment tool to continue the pathway.”
Academic advising does not stop once a student graduates from PSJA. The district has college transition specialists who remain in touch with students through their college careers. One specialist works with the students who stay at South Texas College, another with students who attend UTRGV. There is also a specialist who works with students who leave the Valley to further their education.
“Most students are first generation, so we need to make sure we equip them with skills they need to navigate and be successful in college,” said Dr. Uribe-Treviño.
Career and Technical Education (CTE) is one opportunity path within the Early College model that focuses on high skill, high wage careers. PSJA offers more than 20 specialized programs within its CTE umbrella, including welding, cosmetology, law enforcement, and others. Some of the programs have specialized areas, such as a state-of-the-art kitchen for the Culinary Arts program, and the agriculture farm where students can house and tend to their FFA projects.
“The commitment, their dedication and the responsibility it takes to be part of these programs really builds them as true leaders in what they do,” Garcia said. “Our students are in athletics, cheerleading, drill teams. Academically they compete in UIL. They wear a lot of different hats.”
PSJA ISD, always looking to expand its opportunities for students, is meeting with STC to design a veterinary technician program. The challenge is to develop a program that students can accomplish and complete in four years that meets their high school requirements, as well as a college certificate with an embedded certification that can then be stacked to an apprenticeship or an associates degree.
“One thing we strive for with our students is pushing and letting them know through advisement, ‘What’s next after graduation?’’ Garcia said. “This should not be the end of the road. This is a stepping stone to where they have choices and opportunities to take advantage of.”
February was CTE month, and PSJA recognized the different programs throughout the month by highlighting teachers in each field and bringing experts into the classrooms. Field trips gave students an in-person look at some of the jobs within that field. Student organizations also celebrated and showcased the leadership and technical skills they are learning. Videos were created to keep the community and industry partners informed of the CTE offerings at PSJA.
“It is all about the teachers, the programs, the students,” Garcia said.
Through partnerships with STC and other higher education leaders, more than 3,500 PSJA ISD high school students are enrolled in college courses each semester.
The district continues accepting students living anywhere in the Rio Grande Valley. For more information, visit www.psjaisd.us/whypsja.