Unlike most rising high school seniors, 17-year-old Jeffery Jackson will be graduating with an associate’s degree before receiving his high school diploma.

“I just want to take it one step at a time, honestly I really don’t know how to feel about it, but I know it’s a great accomplishment,” Jackson said.

He will be graduating from the Georgia Military College (GMC) Stone Mountain Campus, on Saturday, June 19, as their 2021 Distinguished Graduate.

Jackson was able to earn his degree through the Dual Enrollment Program. Created by the Georgia Department of Education, dual enrollment allows for high school students to take college courses starting in the tenth grade.

Over 58,000 students across Georgia participated full-time or part-time in Dual Enrollment in 2020.

“Student participation in Dual Enrollment continues to grow each year, even during the pandemic,” said Jennifer Phinney, Dual Enrollment Program Specialist at the Georgia Department of Education.

“We don’t have final numbers for 2021, Dual Enrollment in 2020 was up by about 6,400 students compared to 2019,” Phinney added.

Ronald Walker, GMC Stone Mountain Campus Enrollment Coordinator, first connected with Jackson’s high school, Solid Foundation Christian Academy in 2019.

“This past term I think we had about 25 students from the Dual Enrollment program,” Walker said. “I don’t know why our door isn’t getting beat down every day, because dual enrollment is totally free to the student.”

GMC has a relationship with several high schools in the area including THRIVE Christian Academy, Stephenson High School and Shiloh High School.

This year Jackson will be the first Solid Foundation student to earn an associate degree through the Dual Enrollment program.

Walker also highlighted the support high school students get at GMC when they choose to enroll.

“We start it out with just one simple class,” Walker said. “It’s an orientation class to kind of get students prepared for college and how to study. It teaches them the things they need to know as a college student.”

Walker added that the small class sizes allow GMC professors to give the high school students more of the individualized instruction they need to succeed. If a Dual Enrollment student drops below a C in any of their courses GMC will call home.

Jackson said that the support he got from Solid Foundation, GMC and older Dual Enrollment students helped him through a difficult first year in the program. Specifically his English professor Ms. Dukes.

“She wasn’t the type of teacher that just gave us the work or hand it out. She would actually guide us and coach us,” Jackson said.

During his time at GMC, Jackson focused his studies on the sciences and hopes to continue to do so after he finishes his final year of high school. He said he’s thinking about pursuing a career in the medical field.

“With me being one of the distinguished graduates, I feel good to know that I was one of the people that made it out with my associate’s degree,” Jackson said.

While not every student earns an associate degree, each credit a Dual Enrollment student earns can count towards a future bachelor’s degree.

The Georgia Dept. of Education says almost all school districts in the state participate in the Dual Enrollment program already, however they are still looking to expand.

“One of our goals, both short term and long term, is to continue to increase access to Dual Enrollment opportunities for students in rural districts,” Phinney said. “We are also working on ways to provide more access for students with disabilities.”

Through the Dual Enrollment program, Georgia high school students have access to 30 hours of college credit hours funded by the state.

This article is one of a series of articles produced by The Atlanta Voice through support provided by the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative to Word In Black, a collaborative of 10 Black-owned media outlets across the country.

Jeffery Jackson in a science classroom at GMC Stone Mountain (Photo Credit: Madeline Thigpen/Report For America)

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