Getting a jump start on the future

ICCC online classes, Triton Academy give students more options

-Messenger file photo

For years, high school students in the area have been able to get a jump start on college by taking classes from Iowa Central either in person at the high school, online or at Triton Academy.

Some students, however, take the extra step and earn their associate’s degree or certification while simultaneously earning their high school diploma.

According to Iowa Central High School Partnerships Associate Dean Carrie Rock, nearly 40 high school students from Iowa Central’s nine-county service area will graduate from the community college this spring. Students represent 11 different high schools and will earn an associate’s degree or a certification.

“Our High School Partnerships Department is really striving to provide our area high schools with a variety of opportunities. Not only that, but our focus has been helping students finish their degrees and/or certifications in the shortest amount of time, with the least amount of student loan debt, so they can have a better life,” Rock said.

Mackenzie McIlrath, a senior at Fort Dodge Senior High, first started thinking about pursuing her associate’s degree while just a freshman in high school. After hearing both sides of the argument, she decided it would be in her best interest to work toward that goal.

-Messenger file photo Iowa Central freshmen BrieAnna Remster, of Melcher-Dallas, and Abagail Winter, of Dubuque, walk to their first classes last August on the Fort Dodge campus.

“I talked to the advisers at the University of Iowa, and they said it was a good idea,” said McIlrath, who will head to Iowa this fall. “I decided, ‘yes’ I am going to do it.”

It didn’t come without challenges. McIlrath took several Iowa Central classes over the course of her high school years, but this spring she enrolled in seven online classes to reach her goal.

“I knew I could reach that goal,” she said. “I won’t have to take a lot of general education classes at Iowa. I won’t have to be an undergrad for four years. It will also save me money because I don’t have to pay for those classes.”

McIlrath plans to major in neuroscience with a minor in microbiology. She chose that minor after taking a microbiology class online through Iowa Central last fall.

“I would tell anyone that wants to do this to start early,” said McIlrath, who took a combination of Iowa Central classes online and at the high school. “And they need to be ready to do stuff outside of school. I get up two hours earlier than I used to and work on classes. When I am done with sports, I go home and work on my classes. You need to learn how to study and you can’t expect to get everything done just in class.”

McIlrath, who is involved in three sports, managed to balance her time well. Despite her heavy load, she sports a 3.988 grade-point average and is the class salutatorian.

McIllrath said Danielle Balk, the college and career transition counselor for Iowa Central, was a great help. Balk spends two days a week at the high school working with students who are either taking Iowa Central classes or interested in them.

“She was just amazing. She really explained things very well and really pushed me to get my stuff done,” said McIlrath.

Carter Anderson, another senior at the high school, took a slightly different route to his A.A. degree. This year, he took advantage of the Triton Academy, where high school students take classes on the Iowa Central campus and then return to the high school for other classes.

He attended classes at Iowa Central in the morning before coming to the high school in the afternoon. However, several of his classes at FDSH were Iowa Central dual-credit courses.

Anderson will be attending Iowa State for human development and family studies with a minor in psychology after earning his psychology transfer degree at Iowa Central.

“Triton Academy has allowed me to earn many of the college credits that are going toward my associates degree,” Anderson said. “The Triton Academy program makes it easy to incorporate your interests as well as general courses you need to take no matter where you decide to go after graduation.”

Anderson echoed McIlrath’s advice, that any student wishing to pursue an associate’s degree in high school starts early.

“I decided this was something I wanted to do in my sophomore year of high school. It’s definitely not something you can wake up one day your senior year and decide to do; it’s something you need to plan out,” he said. “Work hard and take advantage of all the opportunities you have to take college courses during high school; it is beneficial in so many ways,” he added. “Even if you don’t earn your associate’s degree during high school, earn as many college credits as possible.”

Schools that have students graduating with a high school diploma and earning an associates degree or certificate from Iowa Central include Eagle Grove, Fort Dodge, Greene County, Humboldt, Newell-Fonda, Sioux Central, South Central Calhoun, Southeast Valley, St. Edmond, Storm Lake and Webster City.


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