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Diego’s Journey to fast tracking his academic goals through the Associate of Arts Pathway

Diego’s Journey to fast tracking his academic goals through the Associate of Arts Pathway

How Diego Laurens Flores is taking advantage of programming at District 191 to get a head start.

Picture being in seventh grade and having to switch schools in the middle of the year. Now imagine that not only is it a new school, but a new country, where you don’t know the language. Also, the year is 2020 and the school year is about to be greatly interrupted, pushing all learning to virtual options followed by hybrid the next year. This is how Diego Laurens Flores started his journey in District 191. 

Growing up in Venezuela, Diego spent a year in Argentina before briefly moving to Florida, and ending up in Minnesota in January of 2020. His time at Nicollet Middle School involved learning English, getting to know his classmates in an adjusted environment, and getting used to life in Minnesota. 

“It was fun at first, but remote learning got a little harder and I got frustrated being home all the time,” said Diego. “I was able to learn English pretty quickly and was really excited to start high school in person.”

Diego Florez listens to a lecture during class

In ninth grade at Burnsville High School (BHS), Diego made friends, did well in his classes, and felt connected to classmates and teachers. His family moved before tenth grade, so he spent a year at another school, but in keeping in touch with friends at BHS, he heard of a unique program that made it clear that BHS was the place for him. 

“The Associate of Arts Pathway felt like a really good opportunity that would save me a lot of time and money,” he said.

Diego was told about the program by Associate of Arts Degree Pathway Coordinator Becky Akerson.

“She told me how hard it was going to be and how much work it was, and I agreed and knew that I had to do it.”

More than 40 juniors are taking advantage of the program with classes taking place entirely at BHS, making it easy for students to earn college credits while also completing high school. At the end of two years, students will graduate not only with a high school diploma, but an Associate of Arts Degree, giving them a huge head start with credits that can transfer or a way to start a career right out of high school. 

“Students need to take about 15 college credits per semester and are still able to stay connected to the high school community, participate in activities, and get additional support,” said Akerson. “The general rule of thumb is that for every college credit you take, you should anticipate about 2-3 hours of homework per week, so it is a ton of work and may be more challenging than a traditional college route.”

Diego has found that Ms. Akerson was not lying about the large quantity of homework and rigor of the classes. Taking College in the Schools (CIS) and Inver Hills Community College courses have allowed him to learn a lot and develop great studying habits. He plans to go into business and is considering a business management degree after high school. 

“The classes are hard but I know that it’s worth it to help me get ahead and be able to graduate early from college and really enjoy my life and work towards my goals of someday owning my own business,” said Diego. “My advice for others is to take advantage of this opportunity to save time and money, but be ready to work hard!”

CIS classes are offered thanks to the University of Minnesota with concurrent enrollment courses offered in partnership with Inver Hills. There are plans to have a professor from Inver Hills teach an environmental science course in the building at BHS, giving students a chance to not only experience the level of rigor of college classes, but the teaching style. Ms. Akerson meets with students weekly during advisory and encourages them to take advantage of other resources including the writing center and tutoring options from the University of Minnesota, BHS and Inver Hills. 

“Advisory time goes quickly, but we talk about tracking credits, preparing for upcoming tests and taking advantage of additional support,” said Akerson. “I am really pleased with how well these students are doing with how much they are being asked to do. We have a wide variety of students in the program and they are all really eager to get their college education and be a part of something no one else has done.”

Teachers are excited about the program and there is a renewed sense of excitement about the college credit options offered at BHS. The goal is to provide a safe space to try challenging courses and show students in middle and high school that it is an option to help them get ahead, as long as they are prepared to work hard. 

Showing that he is dedicated to his chosen path, Diego says he doesn’t spend much time playing video games, or soccer or working out these days, instead staying focused on his homework and preparing for classes. 

“Studying gives you great opportunities in life and this will not only make my transcript look better and give me college credits, but it prepares me for college-level classes,” said Diego. “To me, the hard work is worth it.”