Ten years ago, without a high school diploma finding work was difficult. Fast forward to 2014 and even with a college degree, finding work is a challenge.
As of 2012, the percentage of people unemployed with an associate’s degree is 6.2, only 2.1 percent fewer than those with just a high school diploma, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics Data. Although the unemployment rate is on its way to recovery, the rate is still at one of its highest. Given that people are holding off from retiring or coming back from being retired, the struggle to find a job is at an all-time high.
People are now aware of the struggle and have tackled this new situation several different ways, like trying to stay at the top of their class or putting aside their dream careers to pursue ones that seem more in reach. Others are looking for alternatives in high school.
The Arizona Agribusiness and Equine Center (AAEC) High School is a program founded in 1997 that allows students to attend high school and college at the same time. The school's mission is described on its website as “[preparing] young adults for excellence in academics, social responsibility and lifelong learning.” AAEC High School is a public charter school and classes taken at the high school and at the college are paid for by the school and are free for students to attend. The only time a student has to pay for a class is if the student wishes to attend more classes at the college then required.
The students that go through this school end up not only graduating with a high school diploma but also an associate’s degree. Dr. Mona Ramirez, the Principal at AAEC High School stated, “The great thing about AAEC is that it offers students the opportunity to earn a high school diploma while concurrently earning college credit toward an associate's degree.”
This is one of the main deciding factors for students who choose to attend AAEC High School instead of normal high school. Getting an associate’s degree when they graduate will put them two years ahead of other high school students their age.
Another reason why students decide to transfer to or attend AAEC High School is because of the learning environment. “At AAEC High School we stay true to our word when we say you will be taught in a better learning environment by keeping the classes small. Most high schools classes can go anywhere from 35 to 42 students, while at AAEC High School we keep our class to around 28 students,” Dr. Ramirez said.
Even though college classes may vary in size, having such a small high school classroom environment makes a difference for the few classes students take on the AAEC high school campus. Some things that discourage students to attend AAEC High School is the fear of lacking a true high school experience, but AAEC High School does its best to make sure this does not happen by offering clubs, activities, and even holding prom at the end of the year.
Maddy Taylor, a junior at AAEC High School, decided to start attending AAEC High School her second semester of her freshman year. “I decided to switch schools because I wanted to get a better education and graduate with an associate's degree.” She added, “The main reason why I originally didn’t go to AAEC High School was because I wanted to play sports, but then I found out that you can still try out and participate in high school sports at Millennium while going to AAEC High School, so I decided to make the switch as soon as I could.”
If students do decide to attend AAEC High School, the next step for them to do is choose a program. They have seven different programs to start off their college career. The programs they offer are academics, engineering, equine studies, homeland security, international business, math and science, and last but not least, veterinary and medical.
Each different program helps form a path into a desired career. For example, if someone chooses the engineering course, that person will be given classes to take to help receive an Associate of Science. Along with this, the program itself has formed plans and connections in the engineering field and each individual will be given guidance on planning the perfect path for that person to take. Not only does AAEC High School allow students to choose a program but they also have the choice of location. The AAEC High School program feeds into five colleges, one of them being Estrella Mountain Community College (EMCC).
Once students have decided which campus they want to attend and what program they plan on attending, they are set to begin their learning career as AAEC High School student. “At first it was confusing having to go to the college and find classes on the campus but after I got used to everything, it became as normal as switching buildings at the high school campus during my morning classes there” Taylor stated.
One benefit about AAEC High School is that they do not have a cutoff grade as to when students can transfer in. “You can start to attend AAEC as a freshman or you can transfer in your sophomore, junior, or even senior year.” Dr. Ramirez said. She then went on to explain that the only thing bad about joining AAEC High School late is that students may not get all the credits they need to graduate with an associate's degree. However, she says not to make that the reason not to transfer. Students who decide to transfer as late as their senior year will still be attending college and will still be leaving high school with some college credits, which will help them get their foot in the door for college in the future.
To some students and parents the idea of going to college at such a young age might seem a bit scary but there are always people and friends there to help them along the way. “When I started at AAEC and was only 14 years old, I thought the 18 and 20 year old students would treat me different because they could notice the age gap, but it wasn’t as bad as I thought and I did feel very welcome” Gage Mikos, an AAEC student stated.
All information needed to start attending Arizona Agribusiness & Equine Center (AAEC) High School can be found on its website at www.aaechighschools.com or by phone at (602) 297 8500.