HAMPTON, Va. (WAVY) – If you had the opportunity to earn your associates degree for free, would you do it? Well, a number of students from Hampton City Schools jumped at the chance and now, in just a matter of days, they will graduate from Thomas Nelson Community College before they even get their high school diplomas.
Meet the high school students who already have a jump on college.
“My name is Moises Luna Tubbs. I am 17-years-old, and I’m graduating from the ACE Academy with an associate’s degree in science.”
“My name is Maya Miller. I’m 17-years-old. I’m graduating from Thomas Nelson and the Ace Academy with my Associate of Science degree.”
“My name is Janee’ Thomas. I’m 18 years old and I will be graduating from Thomas Nelson Community College with an associate’s degree through the ACE Academy.”
Moises, Maya, and Janee’ are three of 26 students graduating from Thomas Nelson Community College with their associates degrees. They are the first students to graduate from Hampton’s Advanced College Experience, or ACE, Academy at Phoebus High School.
“It’s all about their interests,” said Phoebus Executive Principal James Harris. “They get to choose the kind of what pathway they take, and you know, we talk about ‘The Me I See is the Me I’ll Be.’ You know, they get to start in our division in 9th grade and get to pursue those options and they graduate with certifications, credentials, associates degrees. So, when we talk about making it happen for every child, every day, that’s exactly what we’re doing through the academies.”
Mr. Harris is proud of his students and everything they have overcome to get this far. For Maya, that is dyslexia. She said her whole life she has been told she can’t do certain things because of her learning disability, but she decided the ACE Academy and Thomas Nelson Community College were exactly what she needed.
“I did ACE to prove to myself that I can do it, and then also, I want to be a pharmacist, and pharmacy school is expensive, and so to get two years out of the way, or paid for already, is very helpful,” said Maya.
This teen said the pandemic definitely made things challenging, but she knew she would have guidance whenever she needed it.
“Phoebus is a family and this ACE program, Thomas Nelson, all of that, they’re very helpful. I know our Thomas Nelson coordinators have helped to get us everything we needed to be virtual. Ms. Williams is always there for us. Our teachers always help us when we need it, and the transition from virtual back to in person learning, because I’m in person now, has been a very smooth transition now because of all the help people give,” said Maya.
Moises Luna Tubbs grew up in Spain. He said when he moved here, he wanted to continue to do well in school.
“First time coming to Phoebus High School I had no idea that this program was a thing, and as soon as I went to the office and talked to the counselors, they were like, ‘Hey. We feel like you’re a good fit for this academy.'”
Moises said he has loved his time at the ACE Academy and Thomas Nelson Community College, and he is proud of his accomplishments.
“I’m the first-generation college student in my family. My mother didn’t go to college. My father didn’t go to college, and my stepfather didn’t go to college either. So, I knew that coming to ACE was the very first step to getting to that aspect of college itself.”
Moises said in addition to the pandemic, this last year was especially hard for him after he lost his father to illness.
“At that point it was all or nothing. I just had to take the first step in and just keep going all the way through.”
Moises is now his class valedictorian, and he got a scholarship to the University of Virginia where he is going to major in biology and play football.
Janee’ is the first in her family to graduate from high school. She was raised by a single mom to herself, her twin, and three young siblings.
“It’s hard to pass up the opportunity to have free college, and for a person like me, who I’m a twin, obviously, so my mom would have had to put two kids through college at the same time. We always knew that we would have to figure it out, get some scholarships, make it work. So, when ACE, the Advanced College Experience, was offered to us, we had to jump on it. Like, I had to be that person who graduated with my associates degree free of charge,” said Janee’.
Janee’ earned a full ride to William and Mary where she plans to study international business marketing. She credits the ACE Academy and Thomas Nelson Community College for helping her get to this point in her life.
“To be able to understand the curriculum of college before you get to college, but still with the support system of a high school is the epitome of success. Like, we’re 100% ready to tackle the college experience.”
This is exactly what Maggie Haley, dual enrollment coordinator with Thomas Nelson Community College, loves to hear.
“We are hoping that more students will feel like they can benefit from this kind of a program also. We have college classes available at all four of the Hampton High Schools, and so there are other students who might not be earning their degrees, but they are certainly taking college classes as well and doing very well in them.”
Haley says this is an opportunity students should not pass up if they feel up to the challenge.
“It’s an excellent opportunity, because the students are able to get high school credit along with college credit. The college classes are going to be more rigorous, however. The teachers that are teaching these classes have higher level credentials. They’ve been certified to also teach college classes.”
As for the college credits students earn through TNCC?
“These classes allow them to be ready to transfer to colleges, four-year colleges, and universities. It’s no cost to the students. So, parents and students are saving money there. They’re getting two for one. They’re earning college credit along with their high school credit,” said Haley.
She also emphasized this program through TNCC is available to quite a few students.
“Thomas Nelson has this program throughout all the school divisions on the Peninsula as well as some of the private schools and home schoolers. So, we are able to offer college level classes for a variety of institutions.”
Both Haley and Harris say this is an exciting opportunity for everyone involved, especially the first graduates ever from the ACE Academy.
“When we talk about our young people being college, career, and life ready, this is now coming to life, you know, our students have been afforded an amazing opportunity that not only will save them money as they pursue their post-secondary options going off to college, but even if they go off into the military, or the workforce, they have something tangible that they’re taking with them,” said Mr. Harris.
Learn more about the ACE program at this link.