CHARLESTON, SC (WCSC) -
Schools across the Lowcountry are gearing up for up for the new school year, including the Early College High School.
It's a high school that's the first of its kind in the Lowcountry. It's a high school that is on a college campus.
The school is on the Trident Technical College Palmer Campus in downtown Charleston and is about to start its second year and add 100 new students to its existing 78.
"They take very rigorous courses and do it in a semester long format," ECHS School Director Vanessa Denney said. "By the time they're sophomores they're registered for dual credit courses which means students are graduating high school with college credits."
"I'm going at a faster pace. I'm doing things faster, and it's a bit more difficult," ECHS Sophomore Jordan McCrae said.
After their sophomore year, students will begin taking college classes at the Trident Tech campus.
The same campus that students previously take two years of high school classes at, just in a separate part of the building.
Denney said students can earn up to an Associate's Degree before graduating high school.
However, before those college classes are attended, the students also take dual credit classes that help them learn about college life, stay organized,and excel in college-level classes.
This support also continues as the kids take the college classes, and their teacher acts as a college adviser.
McCrae said it's challenging, but worth it in the end.
"It's saving time for me so I can do more," McCrae said. "So I'm not in school longer and still learning."
"The kids were really challenged. The work was hard," Denney said. "It's aggressive in terms of how long the courses were. We had kids taking biology in a semester. Where at most traditional semester kids take biology during a year."
This program doesn't just help students get to a four year university after graduation, but also get them ready for the work force.
"If their goal is to go into the workforce directly, obviously we work with Trident to have the students admitted into the appropriate program based upon their goals and they can also go directly into workforce upon graduation with the certificate or work degree that's appropriate," Denney said.
The ECHS is a part of the Charleston County School District, and the district funds the tuition at Trident Tech, and all other expenses to run the school.
The two wings of the building are rented from Trident Tech, and they help with scheduling for the students.
"It makes college accessible or it makes the work force at a price point that is doable for the average family," Denney said.
"It's a great opportunity, and I was happy to be given that opportunity," Sophomore Joceloin Jinenez-Pena said.
Jinenez-Pena was handed a letter in middle school with information about ECHS and what it could offer.
She said her mom was the one who pushed her to apply.
"My mom's like,'You're going,'" Jinenez-Pena said.
She said her mom told her what a great opportunity it could be since she already knew she wanted to go to college, and also because it's an opportunity she didn't have.
"My mom wasn't really given the opportunity. She wasn't given the opportunity for a lot of things," Jinenez-Pena said. "She wanted to push me towards it so I could live the life she couldn't."
"It's not just what it means for kids but for families and generations," Denney said.
Denney said it's a way to help kids get up to an associate's degree free of charge, and help them hone skills they need for the work force or to continue their education.
The school started in 2017 with 100 students and ended the year with 78.
Ten of the students decided to leave the school before classes began. All 78 students returned for their sophomore year.
Over 100 new upcoming freshman attended the school's open house on Wednesday, and unlike last year there is a wait list for additional students wanting to get in.
Every year the school will add an additional 100 students until there are four high school grades. The school will never expand over 400 students.
ECHS is not the first early college.
Horry County has had a similar program for nearly a decade.
One of their students has completed a master's degree at the age of 21, and his student loan debt is lower because of his previously earned credit.
Recruitment for the school begins in February, and kids in the 40th to 60th percentile in their eighth grade are targeted. Students from all CCSD middle schools are represented at ECHS.
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