Students at Cuyamaca Prep Community School have a unique opportunity to mix some college courses in with their high school classes.
The school is located in a classroom on the Cuyamaca Community College campus, which makes it easy for students to hop back and forth between their regular room and other spots on the East County campus.
The opportunity to take three college classes helped 16-year-old Pariss Rodriguez graduate early.
"I think it's awesome," she said. "It's really cool to be able to go out to a real college and be able to take classes.
Cuyamaca Prep is one of the San Diego County Office of Education's Juvenile Court and Community Schools (JCCS). It offers a blended and independent-study program for students in grades 7 through 12 who were referred by probation, social services, or school district officials.
Juniors and seniors enrolled at the community school have the option to take any college course that isn't being offered as a class at the high school. Some of the courses the high school students have taken include foreign languages, science labs, real estate, music, and physical education. Some have taken summer school classes, too.
One recent graduate left the high school with 16 college credits, putting him more than a semester ahead as he continues his education at the community college. For every unit the students earn in a college class, they get 3.33 high school credits as well.
Rodriguez, the student who is graduating early, said she appreciated the college environment and being around more mature students.
"I really think that was a much better environment for me," she said. "I didn't really care about school before, but it helped me focus on goals."
Now, she's planning to continue her studies at Cuyamaca or Grossmont colleges. She hopes to someday become a veterinarian.
The college waives all fees for the Cuyamaca Prep students, and the JCCS program pays for books and health fees.
Each semester, five or six of the 30 or so students at the community school sign up for college courses. Many of those students continue their studies at the college after graduating from high school. Some even come back to the high school after graduation for tutoring.
"It's a big community where the kids who are still in high school get to see the kids in college, and it gives them something to strive for," said Alicia McBride, a teacher at the school.
It also helps the students to be exposed to the atmosphere and expectations on the college campus, which is different from what they're used to at a typical high school.
"The kids have more freedom," McBride said. "I think it opens their eyes to what the difference is as you get older in education."