In four years, a small group of Midlothian ISD students will graduate high school with both an associates degree and a high school diploma.

The district and Navarro College are partnering to offer the incoming 2016-17 freshmen a chance to enter the first class of the Midlothian Collegiate Scholars Academy. Students will take dual credit classes all four years of high school, earning 60 college credits to receive their associates degree in general studies from Navarro by the time they graduate high school in 2020.

Students accepted to the academy will take most of their courses at their high school campus and will be able to participate in athletics, fine arts and other extracurricular activities, said district deputy superintendent Judy Walling.

High school teachers teaching dual credit courses are required to have the same level of experience as college professors at Navarro College, said Alex Kajstura, vice president of Ellis County Campuses, so students will be receiving the same education traditional college students do.

The district is planning to start a cohort of 25 students at both Midlothian and Heritage High Schools so the students can support each other through the four year process, she said. The groups may grow larger over time as the program develops, she said. Students must apply, submit an essay and portfolio of class and extracurricular work and examples of character and leadership, pass the Texas Success Initiative Assessment test to ensure they are ready for college level academics and interview with district and college personnel. Students wishing to apply for the first academy class should apply by March 3.

“You are making a commitment to be a part of this program,” said Natalie Dennington, curriculum coordinator for the district.

The TSI does include some elements from classes many eight grade students might not have taken yet, but students can take the TSI more than once to determine what they need to work on, she said.

The student or their family will be responsible for the $168 per three hour course as well as textbooks, she said, but that is about half of Navarro's usual course cost.

The students would start with a few dual credit classes to lay the foundation and move to more complex courses as they get closer to graduating, said Renae Tribble, director of dual credit programs for Navarro.

Each year, the students in the academy would be able to take a few non-dual credit classes, Walling said.

The high schools will expand the number to teachers qualified to teach dual credit to be able to offer more of the courses the academy students will need, she said. She hopes this encourages more teachers to continue their education because Navarro does pay dual credit teachers a stipend for teaching dual credit, she said. These would not be new positions, she said, but teachers in current positions with the ability to teach dual credit.

The first two years, the academy students will have most of their courses for college credit together, but when they are juniors and seniors, they have more options because of the traditional dual credit classes, she said.

When students move in a cohort group through a program like this, the students support each other and prevent one student from falling behind, Tribble said.

“What a great way to learn that camaraderie and to cross the finish line together,” Dennington said.

Other Ellis County ISD have had students enrolled in dual credit from their freshman year, but these were done as special exceptions to the state law that restricted the age a student had to be to take college courses and how many hours they could enroll in, Tribble said. Each student had to meet a strict enrollment criteria and have permissions from high school and college administrators.

“We have been talking for several years about how we can do this,” Walling said.

Other Midlothian city leaders have also been asking for a program like the academy for a while, Tribble said and in the last legislative session, the state legislature removed all restrictions, making a program like the academy practical for a larger number of students.

With 50 students the first year, the academy will be the largest ISD program with Navarro for high school students to receive their associates degree in Ellis County, Kajstura said.

Even though the student who graduates high school with an associates will not be enrolling in community colleges like Navarro, the programs are a great opportunity for the college to fulfill its goal of providing students opportunities that fit their needs, he said.

“As educators look at the big picture, as long as we are creating pathways for students to reach a better future, provide for their families with a better education, we are meeting our goals,” he said.

And students who have graduated high school with their associates have many options to consider, Tribble said. Some enter fast track masters program and graduate with their masters as others their age are earning bachelor degrees, she said.

Others may use the associates degree to get a job to help them pay for college, or go straight to the work force, said Diane Grossett, curriculum director for the district.

“You are that much more employable,” she said.

Navarro will also help prepare students to transition to four year schools if that is their goal, Tribble said, by beginning to advise them from the college prospective as they approach their junior and senior year, she said.

For more information on the program, visit the information page on the district's website or contact Walling at


Contact Bethany Kurtz at 469-517-1450 or email Follow her on Facebook at or on Twitter @bethmidlomirror.