TIOGA — Although Tioga Independent School District is the smallest in Grayson County, it is offering one of the biggest opportunities for all students to become college and career ready.

TIOGA — Although Tioga Independent School District is the smallest in Grayson County, it is offering one of the biggest opportunities for all students to become college and career ready.

Tioga is the only district in Grayson County to receive an Early College High School designation from the Texas Education Agency. That designation will provide students the option to earn an associate degree or certification before graduation at no cost to the student.

"We were trying to be innovative with a startup dual credit program," Assistant Superintendent Josh Ballinger said. "All high schools have a dual credit program, which is primarily with juniors and seniors. We wanted an opportunity for our younger students without calling it the traditional pre-AP or honors classes.

"It’s not just the top quarter of the class that we’re looking to push into the program. You have to find a way to get the economically disadvantaged, minority and all the nontraditional college-going families interested as well."

Not to be confused with dual credit, which all school districts in the county offer through Grayson College, ECHS provides 60 hours of college credit instead of 12-30 hours. As a higher education partner, GC provides all the classes and some instructors for the college- and career-readiness program. Tioga is one of 107 ECHS campuses that allow students to begin taking college classes in 9th or 10th grade as opposed to waiting until 11th or 12th grade for dual credit.

"Since we started a college readiness campus this year, I’m taking a full (course) load a college freshman would," Tioga High School senior Samantha Holcomb said. "I’m taking four college classes and only two high school level classes … it wakes you up to realize that’s what it’s going to be like in college."

The ECHS classes are being taught by four current THS teachers while the other classes are taught by GC professors in-person or via videoconference.

"It’s all about student success and helping students to reach their academic goals despite any obstacles they may be facing," Leon Deutsch, GC dean of teaching and learning, said. "A lot of these students may finish a two-year degree. Either right after high school or shortly after high school, they are employable in some of these skilled labor fields so that has an economic impact if they decide to stay here."

The ECHS designation at Tioga has generated interest among other Grayson County school districts, including Whitesboro Independent School District, Deutsch said.

Tioga ISD is covering the cost for tuition, books and any other expenses for all students. The district has assigned a $100,000 budget for the ECHS program, Superintendent Charles Holloway said.

"It’s a blessing because some people can’t do it," Holcomb said. "If it wasn’t for the school, I probably wouldn’t be taking the classes. Say you have a $200 book and $500 tuition, that’s outrageous."

Ballinger and Holloway credited community support for the success of the program. Because of the taxpayers, they said, the district is increasing college readiness and reducing barriers to college access.

"(ECHS) is something that people come to us to ask questions about instead of us going out and trying to sell it," Holloway said. "Once they know it’s here and they know what it’s about, they want their child in it for financial reasons or maybe for the opportunity to excel."

Because of the rigor of the college courses, THS senior Cade Gibson said he found it was challenging to adjust to the workload. Gibson said he eventually figured out a way to balance his coursework with athletics and other extracurricular activities.

"These college classes are just like you’re in college. If you don’t turn your assignment in, you don’t get credit," Gibson said. "It’s stressful, especially with athletics and everything else, but it’s real life and that’s the way it is."

ECHS is also required to provide academic and emotional support programs. THS will be offering tutorials and remediation for students as needed, Holloway said. Sometimes teachers will have to stay longer or extend help in a different subject but they are willingly going out of their way to make sure students are receiving the help they need, Ballinger said.

"We’re giving students opportunities and that’s what you should do as a public school district," Holloway said. "When a student graduates, you want them to have the opportunity to do what they need to do to make a living. If that’s pursuing a college degree, then that’s what they want to do. If that’s a specialized trade such as welding, then that’s what they want to do."