DUNCANVILLE, Texas - While some districts are struggling to boost pandemic graduation rates, some Duncanville ISD seniors are exceeding expectations by graduating with a high school diploma and a college degree.
Not only did these high school students battle through their academics during a pandemic, but they did double duty and completed their first two years of college at the same time.
"I basically had to take care of everyone for about two weeks, and that was really difficult," graduating senior Lesleigh Taylor said.
Taylor already knows what it’s like to juggle responsibility, like a full load of academics, part-time jobs, and caring for family members with COVID-19.
"Definitely, this year has tested my work ethic and my persistence," she added.
She’s one of 72 high school seniors from Duncanville High School’s Collegiate Academy donning a cap and gown this weekend.
"Being able to walk across that stage, get that diploma, after all we’ve gone through, I can’t wait," graduating senior Kaleb Berry said.
It also means they’ve earned their associates degree from Mountain View College, simultaneously knocking out two years of college classes for free, a feat that required dedication and discipline during a global pandemic when many students fell behind.
"I wouldn’t have been able to afford any college," Taylor explained.
The extra Mountain View classes even gave them an advantage.
"I had already taken so many online classes," valedictorian Hope Parker said. "It really did help me prepare for the pandemic."
But these students said the isolation certainly wasn’t easy for them either.
A recent banquet was one of the few times they’ve been together.
"Really taught me my strengths and weaknesses and how I can be a better me overall," graduating senior Robert Valdez added.
While dual enrollment programs like this one aren’t necessarily new, these students are the first graduating class for the academy, setting the tone moving forward.
For some students, like Taylor, who is set to attend Vanderbilt University, it means everything to be the first in their family to attend college.
The program also proved to be an invaluable resume builder, helping her snag a coveted Gates Scholarship to help cover the rest of her education.
"It did seem like a lot of work, but in the end, I’m really grateful for the opportunity. And I’m happy that I did it," Taylor added.
Duncanville High School and its Collegiate Academy seniors graduate Monday, June 7, at Globe Life Field.