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Mother and daughter…

It's been four years since Palo Alto College launched its first ECHS partnerships, which means the first class is graduating this spring. Read how one graduate's ECHS experience has inspired her family.

Mother and daughter inspired by ECHS model

It’s been four years since Palo Alto College launched its first Early College High School (ECHS) partnerships, which means the inaugural class is graduating this spring. Using an enhanced dual-credit model, students enrolled at an ECHS have the opportunity to earn an associate degree, while also earning their high school diploma.

Of the 233 ECHS seniors across four ECHS partner schools, as many as 204 will be crossing the stage at the spring 2018 commencement ceremony on May 19 to receive their associate degree. Senior Brenda Salinas will graduate with the inaugural class from Frank L. Madla Early College High School, a Palo Alto College partnership with New Frontiers Charter School.

“My experience has been very positive,” said Brenda, a first-generation college student who dreams of becoming a kindergarten teacher. “I see this environment as very safe and very productive, and they have good support.”

The ECHS program has empowered more than just its students to pursue higher education; it has inspired families. Salinas’ mother, Elisa, is also enrolled part time at Palo Alto College. Although she started her higher education journey before her daughter, Elisa says her daughter’s success in high school and college has inspired her to finish her degree.

“It’s something that we can treasure for the future. We’re close, and so seeing her [from a college] student perspective, I can better understand where she’s coming from,” said Elisa. “I feel grateful and blessed that she’s excelled a lot more than we ever did. That’s encouraging for me. I have to finish [college].”

Elisa and Brenda are both pursuing an Associate of Arts in Teaching, so they have taken classes with the same professors, studied together, and practiced lesson plans together in front of family members.

“It’s been a really good experience meeting new people and getting out of my comfort zone,” said Brenda, adding that it helped prepare her to continue with her bachelor’s degree. “Being in these classes, I learned a lot more, and I’ve progressed a lot more as a college student and as a high school student — from getting my work in on time, time management, and getting everything done to get where I want to be.”

Beyond learning how to be successful in college, their entire family is experiencing the personal value of higher education. Elisa’s son is also attending Madla ECHS and is finishing his sophomore year. Elisa said she started her college career in order to make more money, but her priorities shifted.

“[Money] was my first goal, but now I see it a little differently. Now, I feel like a wiser person,” said Elisa. “I have to set a precedent for my kids, for our family, and the generations to come, that we want an education. We want something better for ourselves.”

“It’s been a great journey. We are grateful for the Early College High School program and the College that can help students; not just us, but everyone that comes here,” said Elisa. “It’s very inspiring for our community. If [Palo Alto College] wasn’t here, less people would probably be attending college.”