Travis ECHS jumpstarts first-generation college students’ education

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Travis junior Armando Hernandez stands in the courtyard of Travis Early College High School Sept. 12. Hernandez has known since fifth grade that he wanted to attend Travis and become the first in his family to graduate college. Alison Graef

Students can graduate high school with an associate of arts.

By Alison Graef

agraef@student.alamo.edu

Travis Early College High School junior Armando Hernandez first heard about the school when he was in fifth grade. 

“When I heard about it, I told my mom … ‘I want to go to this program so much,’” Hernandez said. “She said, ‘If you want to get into this program with so much expectation, you’ve got to set yourself up for that. You have to be the best student you can.’” 

Hernandez said he took those words to heart and worked hard through middle school. After eighth grade, he applied and was accepted into Travis. 

“Just seeing that this school provides so much, it grew up in my little kid mind that I can do this,” Hernandez said. 

Hernandez plans to become the first in his family to graduate from college. He said many members of his family have attended college but dropped out to return to work. 

“I feel that I have the responsibility to go to college, graduate from college, get a higher degree, get a better job over what my parents have right now,” Hernandez said. “They tell us … that we need to work for what they couldn’t do.”

Travis Early College High School opened its doors at 1915 N. Main Ave. in 2008. 

The school offers students up to 60 hours of college credit and the opportunity to graduate with a high school diploma and an Associate of Arts degree from this college. 

Principal Adrianna L. Arredondo said 80 percent of last year’s 116 seniors graduated with an associate degree. This semester Travis has about 290 students traversing this campus.

Students take six hours of dual credit classes the spring of their freshman year. Sophomores take 12 hours, and juniors and seniors take between nine and 15 hours. 

Arredondo said the school’s goal is to provide an opportunity for students from underprivileged families to become first-generation college students who can get a two-year degree at no cost. 

“I think the fact that San Antonio College is in close proximity to us allows the kids to actually feel that they are on the college campus, as opposed to a regular high school where they may be taking a college course on a high school campus,” said Rachel Bazan-Shipp, lead counselor at Travis.

Travis is an San Antonio Independent School District in-district, charter public school, which Arredondo said allows it to be more selective in the admissions process. Students are evaluated by grades, past performance, attendance and self-motivation. About 20 percent of accepted applicants are out-of-district. This semester 395 students are enrolled and 25 spots went unfilled. 

“We have an interview that is really critical for me and for the campus to see if a child wants to be here next year,” she said, noting the interview helps assess motivation and ability to handle the workload, a minimum of three hours of homework daily. “The ones who are determined and dedicated and want to be here, they will follow through.” 

Arredondo said the school and this college foster a culture of personal academic responsibility and good work ethic. “I think there is a strong benefit,” Arredondo said, adding the high school is set up to provide a much more rigorous environment.

“Everyone who comes through that front door has the mindset that everybody’s going to go to college,” Arredondo said.

“By the time they are 10th graders, I see the change in their demeanor, the way they talk, the way they carry themselves. They respect one another,” Arredondo said. “By the time they are seniors, they are young adults. You can see that character and it’s amazing to see.”

Hernandez said the social environment is different from some schools because students connect across grade levels. 

“Whether we’re a senior or a freshman, we’re able to have that connection in what we like, the experiences we’ve had,” Hernandez said. “And even the seniors are leaders to us. They guide us; they show us what has happened, what we can do, what to avoid.”

“Where I think Travis differs is that where most people look for friends in high school, in this school, we look for family,” he said. 

Travis sophomore Alma Renderos is among the first in her family to attend college. She and her twin brother, Eli, and older brother, Cesar, all attend Travis and are working hard to create a first generation of college graduates in her family. She knew when she was a child she wanted to get a higher education, so when she heard about the opportunity to get a free degree while still in high school, she knew where she wanted to go. 

“There’s moments when it is really stressful, but you just have to remember that it’s going to pay off one day when you receive your associate before you get your high school diploma,” Renderos said. “ … Everyone in this school cares about their education. Everyone has a common goal to graduate.”

“It’s a friendly academic competition, where they are always striving to do better, yet at the same time they are always helping their fellow classmate improve and do better as well,” Bazan-Shipp said.

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