ZACH ABLER SET TO GRADUATE HIGH SCHOOL & COLLEGE IN SAME WEEK
BY MELANIE BUCK –
A partnership between RMCC and the local Ouachita River School District (Acorn and Oden) combined with the ambition and tenacity of students willing to take advantage of it is opening opportunities for students to not only get a jump start on their college education but at no cost to the student. Ouachita River School District is investing in their students by way of this partnership by not only providing dual credit but also paying the bill for students.
Recognizing opportunity is not always a common attribute of high school students; however, on occasion, there comes along a student with enough motivation, humbleness, and drive to not only succeed, but to succeed early. Zach Abler, a junior at Oden High School has proven to be one such student. Zach is not only a full time high school student, but is also taking 18 hours of college credit this semester to add to the 15 hours he took last semester. With his senior year already mapped out, Zach is set to receive his high school diploma from Oden and his associate degree from Rich Mountain Community College at the end of the 2015-2016 school year.
Zach’s plan began when he was approached by Principal Edwards and Oden Counselor Apryl Philpot. They explained to Zach that by the time he reached his senior year, he would only need one credit of English to graduate. Edwards explained that Zach could take that credit in his junior year and graduate a year early. Expecting Zach to quickly jump on board, Edwards, Philpot, and Zach’s parents were all surprised when he turned the offer down. Among the reasons he wanted to stay in high school, Zach said, “I love being the head of my class and I wouldn’t be valedictorian if I graduated a year early.”
While seeking ways to fill Zach’s time, Edwards was approached by Ouachita River School District Superintendent Jerry Strasner who explained that the district was developing a program with RMCC that could help students like Zach in Oden and Acorn to have a fulfilling and challenging education, even when they have all the credits needed to graduate. “It really gave me the idea that if I had two years of high school left then I could get two years of college in also. I wanted my associates degree more than I wanted to graduate early and since I could take it here [Oden] and I had so much free time, that’s what I really wanted to do,” said Zach.
Explaining the reasoning for such a program, Strasner said, “A lot of kids come to their senior year needing only one course to graduate but the law says they have to attend school all day long. The question is what do you do with them the other 6-7 periods a day? If you don’t offer them a relevant course work then they’ll want to graduate early or they’ll want to go somewhere else that will offer them relevant course work. It all comes back to, who are you, what do you want to do with yourself, and do we offer the courses or can we go get them for you.”
For a kid like Zach he was faced with graduating early or the school had to get him something relevant. Strasner also said they have opened the doors for lower classmen to also take college courses, stating that even freshman and sophomores in both Acorn and Oden are taking advantage of the program. “It goes back to simple mathematics. If Zach doesn’t go to school his senior year, I don’t get funding on him period. So, to me, he is the best of everything: one, I get to keep him; two, he gets something relevant for his life; and three, we have the tuition discount,” explained Strasner.
Rich Mountain Community College Recruiter Jerrod McCormick said that although RMCC has had high school students complete their associates while still in high school, they had to do it on their own. “This is the first time we’ve had someone do this within their core schedule at their school. Zach is the type of student that makes this fun. Anytime we can go out and help these kids is a return on investment for the three counties in our service area.”
McCormick also explained that 42 of Zach’s 62 hours needed for his associates degree will be taken online, while 11 hours he will have to do own his own, and the rest are done with teachers at Oden High School. Zach has plans to also take courses on his own during the summer semester as well. With aspirations of seeking a bachelor’s degree in chemistry or biology and to eventually become a doctor, he has been given a great start.
Edwards said, “This is the benefit of a relationship with RMCC and Mr. Strasner’s work. It’s just a matter of making sure there is a computer lab for the students to complete the work. I want this to be incentive for my seventh, eighth, and ninth graders to say, hey, let’s buckle down and do the best we can so that in our tenth and eleventh grade year we’re doing what that Zach Abler kid did. I think mentorship works very well in our small setting. Zach is setting the bar and he’s showing the rest of our student body what can be accomplished.”
“We need to make sure that they are challenged and ready and all the periods of the day need to be for preparing the child for what they want to do. Zach wants to be a doctor and we’ve given him what’s relevant to do that,” says Strasner. Explaining that not all students go to college, Strasner wants to make sure his district provides relevant course work for every student. “It’s challenged me to look at all areas. How are we making the course work relevant for someone who’s not going to college? Are they hitting the ground running with a trade? We’ve got to help them to be prepared for life and that’s what makes me feel good about this whole process.”
Edwards said that Zach is the student that every educator wishes they had. Brushing away the compliments and ‘pats on the back,’ a very humble Zach said, “I am really thankful for all of these people that have helped me. They’ve been the ones that have done it all for me.” To which Strasner replied, “We just drew the dots, you’re the one connecting them.”