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Sharpening the Educational Edge in McAllen

Early College & IB programs give students competitive advantages.

By Laura Hill on April 22, 2020

McAllen TX
McAllen / Nathan Lambrecht

In McAllen, tomorrow’s leaders are competitively positioned with programs that give them head starts on their college and career goals.

The International Baccalaureate program at Lamar Academy and Achieve Early College High School, both highly regarded, offer motivated students the chance to earn substantial college credit and, in the case of Achieve, an associate degree. Aside from the educational advantages they provide, these programs also offer real economic pluses, making college less costly.

International Baccalaureate

As a high school student, Andrea Gutierrez was inspired by Lamar Academy’s International Baccalaureate (IB) program – so inspired that she now manages the IB program at her alma mater.

“Some of my teachers are now my colleagues,†says the 2010 Lamar graduate. “It’s pretty neat.”

Gutierrez describes the IB program as “a rigorous academic course of study that focuses on helping students become lifelong learners. It has a global focus, and coursework includes studying different perspectives from around the world.”

Extra Credit: McAllen Students Have Strong Higher Education Options

As of July 2019, there were more than 5,100 IB schools in 156 countries. McAllen Independent School District offers the IB programs for primary grades, middle years and, at Lamar Academy, high school.

So successful is Lamar’s IB program – 96% of its students attain their IB diplomas – that in 2016, it was named an IB School of Distinction for having the highest diploma-earning rate in the world. Yes, the world.

“We have all kinds of students, all kinds of learners who want to prepare themselves for all kinds of colleges,†says Jeanette Nino, Lamar Academy principal. “Our graduates do amazing things.”

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McAllen / Nathan Lambrecht

In their freshman and sophomore years, IB students take six to eight courses in the Middle Years Programme, and in 10th grade, they complete an individual project that gives them the opportunity to explore their passions outside the classroom.

“The kids choose their own topics, which can range from organizing a 5K to learning the construction of a motorcycle, or family history and culture,†Gutierrez says. “It’s a chance to be really challenged by something they love. The kids call them passion projects.”

In the Diploma Programme, during their junior and senior years, students complete six courses, each two years long, and are rigorously tested internally through projects, exploration, presentations and written analyses as well as externally through IB examinations.

The hard work pays off. IB graduates are guaranteed 24 hours of college credit in the Texas State University System, and at private universities, IB grads receive credits or higher-level course placement.

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McAllen / Nathan Lambrecht

Achieve Early College High School

Achieve Early College High School is a McAllen success story all its own, offering disadvantaged students the opportunity to graduate from high school with enough college credits to earn associate degrees along with their high school diplomas. In fact, more than 500 students have done just that since the school opened in 2008, with the majority of them going on to pursue four-year college degrees.

“Seventy-two percent of our students are economically disadvantaged, the highest percentage in the city. Our freshman class is 47% at risk, meaning they may not have done well on state exams, or have been held back, or other circumstances,†says Miguel Carmona, Achieve High School principal. “You might call many of them first-generation students.”

McAllen, TX is Growing with Opportunity

Despite the challenges they face, Achieve students live up to their school’s name. As freshmen, they prepare academically for the test that will qualify them to take college courses beginning in their sophomore year. Students take their college classes with professors on the South Texas College campus.

Depending on their degree plan, students can choose from a wide variety of courses, from criminal justice to biology to interdisciplinary topics, in addition to completing 42 core course hours.

“Most students come knowing what they want to do, whether it’s animal science or education, for example,†Carmona says. “They can start with us, then go on as juniors in college.”

McAllen Chamber Offers Up Wishes Granted

As with Gutierrez and Nino, Carmona’s pride in his hardworking, dedicated students is clear.

“The kids I’ve known here, even though they are in less than perfect situations, are go-getters, they speak well, and they’re very respectful,†he says. “They want to be in our system, so we don’t have an issue that many schools have with kids not wanting to be in school. Our students have a desire to never give up.”

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