Students released hundreds of blue and yellow balloons into the sky above the Parker campus of Colorado Early Colleges Aug. 18, marking the non-traditional high school's opening.
A total of 344 students are enrolled in the free Douglas County charter school, which helps its students earn college credits along with their high school diplomas.
“This is the beginning of a change in the way students in Douglas County look at their high school education,” head of school John Etzell told the students, parents and staff members gathered in the parking lot of the Parkglenn Way building. “What an amazing change for you to get a jumpstart on your futures.”
The students hail from 22 towns and 40 middle and high schools.
“Over 140 of you are taking at least one college course this fall,” Etzell said. “The rest of you will be catching up very soon.”
The building southeast of Lincoln Avenue and Parker Road is the third Colorado Early Colleges campus. The first opened in Colorado Springs in 2007, followed by a Fort Collins campus in 2012.
Founder Keith King, a former state senator and Colorado Springs City Council President, was moved to start Colorado Early Colleges by what he saw as a lack of post-secondary education options. The schools are aimed at both students who are college-bound and those who might not otherwise have considered college, offering them the opportunity to earn associate degrees and concurrent enrollment credits to use toward higher degrees.
While traditional high schools offer concurrent enrollment, “it is our 100 percent focus,” Etzell said.
King spoke at the Douglas County school's opening ceremonies. He urged the students to take advantage of the educational system available to them.
“I'm looking forward to you being the next generation of leaders,” he said. “We're excited about what you can accomplish.”
Michael and Cathy Jackson, new residents of Parker who relocated from Texas, said the school is ideal for their two children, who were homeschooled until now.
“This is a wonderful opportunity for them to gain college credit,” Cathy Jackson said. “The teachers they chose, the challenging academic schedule, and the administration is so willing to help — that is rare.”
Classes are offered both on and off campus. The Douglas County branch has a partnership with Arapahoe Community College for its professors to teach nine college-level classes. It also has agreements with ACC, Red Rocks, Front Range and Pikes Peak community colleges, Metro State and the University of Colorado-Denver that allow its students to attend those schools.
Parents receive a $4,200 voucher, a portion of Colorado Early Colleges' per-pupil state funding, to use toward tuition and books.
Some students earn associates degrees and start work upon graduating from Colorado Early Colleges. Those wishing to attend a four-year college can earn enough credits to enter a four-year university as juniors.
The Parker school received a waiver from the Douglas County School District's exclusive chartering authority, and instead is authorized through the Colorado Charter School Institute.