In the next few weeks, fifth-year seniors Karina Ramirez and Haley Maloney will not only receive their high school diplomas but also an associate’s degree from Oakland Community College (OCC) as Clarkston High School’s first Early College graduates.
“The academic, social and emotional maturity these guys have gone through the process of the last three years is amazing,” said Clarkston High School Principal Gary Kaul. “When you talk to them they’re not high school kids, they are accomplished young women at this point.”
Kaul said Clarkston joined Oakland Schools’ ACE (Accelerated College Experience) program in 2013. However, the program was limited to about five or six students who could be nominated for the program and those applicants had to meet certain socioeconomic and educational criteria to be enrolled into the program.
Ramirez said she first heard about the program during her junior year in her English as a Second Language (ESL) class and was urged by her teacher to apply for the program.
“It was myself and another student,” Ramirez explained. “When we first applied, we weren’t accepted into the program. That’s when Mr. Kaul was the one who helped us get in for the second time. We actually took an ESL class before going into it.”
Maloney, who was also a junior, said first heard about it, was in her support class.
“My support teacher had a flyer for it and said I should go into it,” she said. “My teacher said ‘it is good thing for you’ because she thought the work here was too easy for me, so I applied and they accepted me.”
“It’s really exciting to be able to graduate from this program and being 18 and having your associate’s degree,” Maloney added, who will be getting a liberal arts degree from OCC and plans on studying early childhood education at the University of Michigan Dearborn.
Ramirez is also graduating with a liberal arts degree and plans on going to Wayne State University to major in English and minor in Latin American Studies before going into law school.
“For me I’m the first year college student of my family, so my whole family is excited,” she said. “If it weren’t for the program, I don’t know where I would be. It’s sort of a different way of seeing life.”
Maloney, who’s adopted said going on to get her bachelors degree will it a first for her family as well. She too has received tremendous support from her family.
“One of the precursors to a student’s success in school is the education of their parents,” Kaul explained. “It just makes the accomplishment these guys are continuing to do that much greater.”
While both girls are proud of their hard work and accomplishments, they noted the reward didn’t come without some sacrifices. One of which was friendships.
“You’re not really involved in high school,” Ramirez explained. “You’re only here (at the high school) three hours in your junior year and then it goes down to two hours in your senior year, so you hardly see your friends.”
“I feel like when you go to high school and college, your high school friends go on to a completely different path,” Maloney added. “You just don’t really connect with them anymore, because they’re doing things like prom and stuff like that, while you’re doing finals at college or maybe going to put in your application to graduate.”
In addition to not only their college courses, they both work jobs as well, which limits their time to see friends and hang out.
While the girls didn’t get their diplomas yet, they were able to walk last year with the 2015 graduating class.
As far as advice they’d give other students considering entering the program, Maloney said despite the fear of only being 15 or 16 years old, “just go for it.”
Ramirez said “be prepared for college classes.”
“You’re going to be in classes with people like your parent’s age. You’re going to have make decisions. You’re not going to be in high school all of the time, so sometimes you’re not going to be able to do your extracurricular and miss out,” she said. “It’s like you’re taking an adult step and going on to college. This is a huge commitment.”
As apart of the ACE program the girls are also getting a MEMCA (Michigan Early Middle College Association) certification, which includes either 100 hours of volunteer time or 40 hours of job shadowing and internship.
“That’s another thing they give us,” Ramirez said. “It also helps us with portfolios, resumes and cover letters.”
Kaul said Clarkston will be expanding their early college program with a partnership with the University of Michigan Flint.
Within this (geographical) location, the University of Michigan Flint was kind of a no-brainer for us,” Kaul added.
Whenever he talks to parents about the early college program and they have questions, Kaul said he references Ramirez and Maloney.
“Personally, seeing where they were when they came into high school and where they are at now, the maturity level, the goals they have now, how focused they are is really rewarding for any educator,” he said. “Seeing them as the example, I talk about this program all the time…These guys went out into the real world and they grew on their own. They had a good support system, but 99 percent of this was done on their own.”