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El Paso County Colorado District 49

Vista Ridge student first to graduate with diploma, AA degree

Alie Mann walked with her senior class from Vista Ridge High School in Falcon School District 49 at the graduation ceremony last May; however, she did not receive her high school diploma. Although she graduated, Mann said she is technically still in high school because she is enrolled in the districtís ASCENT program.According to the D 49 website, students in the ASCENT program have an additional year of concurrent enrollment beyond12th grade. Qualified students take college courses but are still enrolled in high school. Students in the program can be either full or part-time, based on how many college credits they take each semester; and if they maintain at least a ìCî average in their classes. D 49 pays their tuition.Mann said she has spent the last school year taking a full-time class load through Pikes Peak Community College, and has secured an internship with a graphic design firm. ìI am helping my boss build advertisements that go into magazines and occasionally, I will do illustrations,î she said. ìI want to get into sustainable design. I want to take what I have learned from her and apply that overseas and design on the more eco-friendly side of things.îMary Perez, director of concurrent enrollment for D 49, said in the past, concurrent enrollment was considered a way to earn general education credits toward a four-year college degree. ìConcurrent enrollment is really for every student, whether they want to be a welder and get a certification in that or get a degree in culinary arts,î she said.Participating in concurrent enrollment and the ASCENT program was definitely challenging, Mann said. ìIt was kind of a slap in the face compared to high school,î she said. ìIt was not terrible, but it was a really steep learning curve on how to handle that much work.îPerez said the districtís 49 Pathways is an individualized approach to show students the career options available to them. Not every student is on the college track so concurrent enrollment to earn college credit might not be a good fit for everyone, she said.However, the program helps students decide their career path or end one path and move toward the next. If a student starts down a criminal justice pathway; and, after one class, decides not to pursue it, the student can choose a different path, without having to pay for something that didnít fit, Perez said.In Colorado, three-quarters of jobs available require some kind of post-secondary training, Perez said. ìOur goal with 49 Pathways is to provide some skill training of some kind so students are not unemployable right out of high school,î she said. ìWe are providing them an opportunity to get out of the minimum wage bracket.îMann said her experience through the ASCENT program exposed her to a little bit of everything, without locking her in. Mann will receive her high school diploma and her associate of applied sciences degree from PPCC when she graduates from college in May.ìMy parents did not have to pay for my college classes,î Mann said. ìAnd they are extremely happy about that.î

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