A decade of educational excellence: Clear Horizons Early College High School celebrates 10-year anniversary
03.24.2017 | By Andrea Vasquez
HOUSTON – For the last decade, Clear Horizons Early College High School (CHECHS) has steadily raised the bar for early college high schools in Texas.
This year CHECHS is celebrating 10 years of educational excellence made possible through a partnership between Clear Creek Independent School District (CCISD) and San Jacinto College. The first of the College’s four early college high school programs, CHECHS is housed on the San Jacinto College South Campus. This allows for CHECHS students to simultaneously attend college courses while completing high school diploma curriculum requirements. In result, the students graduate high school with a diploma and an associate of arts degree.
“As San Jacinto College’s first early college high school, Clear Horizons was an opportunity for a partnership that would yield a very different high school experience for incoming CCISD ninth graders,” said Dr. Pamela Campbell, San Jacinto College associate vice chancellor for student success partnerships. “Both the College and CCISD are now able to claim top high school and college graduates who are pursuing further education at nationally renowned public, private and military institutions across the United States. This initial experience paved the way for the seven additional early college high schools that will be part of the San Jacinto College district in 2017.”
In fall 2007, CHECHS opened its doors to more than 100 students during its first, ground-breaking semester. In May 2011, CHECHS saw its first graduating class of 81 students with 66 earning an associate degree. Over the years, the school has been regionally and nationally recognized.
Clear Horizons ECHS isn’t an ordinary high school, according to Dr. Greg Smith, CCISD Superintendent of Schools. “Students don’t come here to be mediocre- they come here to be amazing,” he said. “They are not only accountable to Clear Creek Independent School District but also to San Jacinto College. CHECHS is about partnerships and collaboration, and its students are great examples of the wonderful things that happen when excellence and opportunity join together to ensure student success.”
In 2012, U.S. News & World Report ranked CHECHS the 34th Best High School in the state of Texas and 48th in the nation among charter schools. In 2014, CHECHS was named one of Houston’s best public high schools. To date, CHECHS has graduated 442 high school seniors, with some of them continuing to prestigious institutions such as Johns Hopkins University, Rice University and the United States Military Academy at West Point. CHECHS students are also among National Merit and Bill and Melinda Gates Millennium Scholarship recipients. The class of 2016 saw the largest graduating class, 83 seniors, who completed a total of 10,056 service-learning hours.
Alumna Melody Clay, from the original graduating class, says that CHECHS was instrumental in preparing her for college. “CHECHS helped me see what the academic expectations would be once I entered a university setting,” said Clay. “My teachers showed me that college wasn’t just an option but a possibility for me. After I graduated, I went to the Colorado School of Mines and earned a degree in civil engineering. I worked in Houston for a few years designing utilities and working on construction projects all over the city. Now I’m back in Colorado pursuing my master’s degree in underground construction and tunneling and working part time designing utility tunnels throughout the state of Colorado.”
Alumnus Vinh-Son Nguyen, CHECHS class of 2013, is in his first year of medical school at the University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio (UT Health San Antonio). Upon graduating from CHECHS, Nguyen was one of 20 students accepted into the inaugural class of the Facilitated Acceptance to Medical Education (FAME) program at the UT School of Medicine in San Antonio. The rigorous seven-year medical program allows students to graduate as physicians with a B.S./M.D. dual degree. “CHECHS allowed me to find my professional identity early on, especially through an internship with NASA. It encouraged me to explore more internships and continue to develop personally and professionally. Last semester I interned at the House of Representatives Committee on Space, Science and Technology in Washington, D.C., and it was a life-changing experience. I attribute all of my success to CHECHS.”
Choosing to attend CHECHS is a decision that CHECHS Principal, Dr. Brett Lemley, says isn’t taken lightly. “Our students choose to come to CHECHS and engage in our very rigorous curriculum, taking all advanced-level high school courses in conjunction with college-level courses,” he said. “Our priority is to build individual relationships with each student in order to know how we can best support them. The result is a culture of inclusion and support in a family-like atmosphere that fuels our success and continuous improvement.”
Current CHECHS seniors Leni Varghensi, Vy Tran and Paola Zerpa say that while attending CHECHS does afford a more rigorous academic experience, an advantage when it comes to college applications, there are other advantages students don’t realize until they’re in. “For one thing, you’re encouraged to focus on and explore a career path,” said Zerpa. “You can’t graduate and not have a plan because we graduate high school with an associate degree.”
Tran added that because CHECHS isn’t the stereotypical high school experience, students actually gain more freedom than some may think. “I like the fact that we have a lot more freedom than regular high school students because we’re on a college campus,” she said. “CHECHS really allows you to become your own person and not just be an average high school student.”
Varghensi emphasized that the student population is probably the most diverse in the district. “I wouldn’t be friends with most of the people I’m friends with now if I had continued to go to a regular high school,” she said. “I’ve been exposed to countless different experiences and people of different genders, ethnicities, cultures, etc. You name it, and you can probably find it at CHECHS.”
About San Jacinto College
Surrounded by monuments of history, industries and maritime enterprises of today, and the space age of tomorrow, San Jacinto College has been serving the citizens of East Harris County, Texas, since 1961. As a fiscally sound institution, the College currently holds bond ratings of AA and Aa2 by Standard & Poor’s and Moody’s, respectively. San Jacinto College is a 2017 Aspen Prize for Community College Excellence Rising Star Award recipient and an Achieving the Dream Leader College. Approximately 30,000 students each semester benefit from a support system that maps out a pathway for success. The College offers seven areas of study that prepare a diverse body of students to transfer to a four-year college or university or enter the workforce with the skills needed to support the growing industries along the Texas Gulf Coast. San Jacinto College graduates contribute nearly $690 million each year to the Texas workforce.