When Kelly Watson tosses her high school graduation cap next week , she won’t be looking to start her college career.
She’s already well on her way.
Watson, 18, is a senior at Southwest Aeronautics, Mathematics and Science Academy, an Albuquerque charter school with an online curriculum. Since the summer after her freshman year, Watson has also been taking a full load of classes at Central New Mexico Community College.
The state’s dual credit enrollment program allows Watson, and other high school students, to take college-level courses that earn both high school and college credits. Under the program, the colleges agree to waive tuition and local schools provide students with books.
“It was a lot of work,” Watson said of her rigorous class schedule.
Seniors throughout the city will be walking across the stage next week when the Albuquerque Public Schools district and many charters in the city hold graduation ceremonies.
Watson expects to graduate with two associate degrees – one in fine arts and another in art history.
She expects to have 68 college credits that can be transferred to the University of New Mexico, where she has been accepted and plans to attend in the fall. UNM requires a minimum of 128 credits to earn a bachelor’s degree.
Watson plans to pursue a master’s degree in art education so she can become an art teacher.
“For a student to align their high graduation requirements with the requirements of an associate’s program is an amazing feat,” said Robert Pasztor, Watson’s principal at SAMS. “In order for a high school student to accomplish what she has, they would have to be assertive, creative, perseverant, very intelligent and committed to their goal.”
Watson said SAMS’ online curriculum was helpful for her because she could attend CNM full time during the day and complete her high school classes on nights and weekends.
Lyn Pierre, an art instructor at CNM who had Watson in several of her classes, said she’s seen the ambitious student grow over the years.
Pierre said Watson was a bit nervous when she first came into one of her classes as a 16-year-old. But over the past two years she’s become a more confident, assertive artist, Pierre said.
Watson admitted her class schedule put a damper on her social life, but she said she’s glad to have accomplished what she has.
She said she would tell other students to seriously consider dual credit classes.
“I would say do it. Take advantage of the system,” Watson said.