PAWTUCKET – The fifth-ranked member of Tolman High School’s Class of 2018, Melissa Giron is always looking for a challenge in the classroom. But her 4.3 grade point average in high school wasn’t enough, so Giron decide it was time to advance her education a year early.
Through the PrepareRI Dual Enrollment program which allows all public high school students in Rhode Island to take free courses at one of the state’s public colleges, Giron is currently taking a full course of classes at Community College of Rhode Island’s Lincoln campus.
Being 18 years old and a senior in high school, yet mingling with people a few years her senior is nothing new for Giron.
“Throughout all high school, I was friends with older people, it didn’t feel challenging. It felt very easy for me,” Giron said. “I wanted to see what I could do to step it up a little bit, to improve a little bit more. I thought CCRI has a good enrollment program where seniors in high school take college classes there.”
Giron enrolled at CCRI last fall and has been taking classes on the college campus ever since. She doesn’t attend classes at Tolman High anymore, but still goes to the high school every Monday after school to participate in Student Council. Instead, she takes four classes at CCRI: introduction to business on Monday and Wednesday mornings, and English composition, Spanish, and accounting on Tuesday and Thursday afternoons.
“A lot of people tell me I’m very mature for my age, I’ve felt it too. I’m able to take this challenge,” she said. “I’m very independent, my parents always taught me to be independent. I didn’t think it was that much different, that I wouldn’t be able to take it. I knew I’d be up for it.”
Saying that attending college early gives her a chance to explore her independence, Giron said there’s more work in her college courses, but it’s a challenge she’s not about to shy away from.
“It’s on you to pick up the challenge to get the work done. Time management, it’s a little harder to get everything done and manage my time,” she said. “The environment is different with older students and people around my age. It’s great to see how everyone works in this environment. The teachers are there, but you need to get it done yourself.”
While she’ll be graduating with her Tolman High classmates next month, Giron says she doesn’t particularly miss high school or the traditional educational route for high school seniors.
“I like this environment that I’m in, it’s very nice … I want something that challenges me to do something better, something I can keep working on, to help me get ahead,” she said. “College courses are great for me, they help me decide what I want to pursue.”
Another way Rhode Island is making college more of a reality for its students is through no-cost access to the PSAT and SAT standardized tests, said state Education Commissioner Ken Wagner.
“We know when students challenge themselves, they see themselves as going to college … have the students challenge themselves, many more see outcomes and futures they may not have previously imagined,” he said. “They will be successful.”
While most college students go through a bit of a trial-by-fire as they endure freshman year, Giron says the PrepareRI program worked to her benefit. She began by taking business classes but soon realized “it’s not for me … It didn’t seem like something I wanted to do, I got very bored.” Fortunately, with the free courses, she’s able to take a mulligan on that major and now wants to pursue a career in medicine.
Through her coursework, she found her passion for health sciences and now plans to pursue medicine at University of Rhode Island after she graduates high school and envisions a career in dermatology or anesthesiology.
“My parents were always on me to do very good in school, it was always on me, I can’t get anything below a 90...” Giron said. “When I was 16, I got a job at an insurance company. It helped me realize the real world and working really early. It showed me I can take on a challenge and I can do more.”
Giron said if she had any words of advice for students pining for that next challenge and interested in starting their college careers early, she’d advise them to take the chance.
“It’s a great opportunity to take, especially since you’re not paying anything. It helps you get a head start, realize what you’d want to pursue...” she said. “That’s what I really feel like, it helps people a lot. You’re not wasting money to see what you’re doing, a lot of people change their majors when they go to a four-year college, this helps them realize what they want to pursue.”
Wagner describes the program as a win for the economy, local businesses, colleges, and high schools.
“It gives businesses the talent pipeline they need, a positive introduction to the world of higher education,” he said. “A way you recruit is you give good experience early. It’s a win for the high schools, course experiences high schools across the state may not be able to offer.”
“Our goal is to grow the access and grow the participation, we also have to continue to push ourselves to adequately prepare students for these opportunities...” Wagner said. “To make sure it’s not just our most affluent students in the suburbs being prepared, but all students."