Dual-credit students getting a head start on jobs, careers

Dec 4, 2018

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As a young boy, Tony Nguyen watched his mother prepare a smorgasbord of Vietnamese foods each day, everything from steamed rice to caramelized fish in a clay pot, to sizzling pancakes and other staple dishes.

“When I was growing up, my mother would cook most of my meals and seeing her cook and tasting the way she cooks was quite intriguing,” said Nguyen, 15. “I’ve always wanted to try them out. I had an opportunity to join culinary arts at school and learn how to cook, and here I am.”

Today, Nguyen is following his mom’s culinary footsteps as a sophomore student at Stafford College and Career Center, a dual-credit program operated by Stafford High School and Houston Community College. In 2011, Fort Bend County voters approved a $49 million bond issue to fund the programs in the College and Career Center and make other campus improvements.

Dual-credit students make up about 40 percent of Stafford High School’s student population of about 1,000 students, said Deborah Nordt, director of the college and career center. The program offers 12 dual-credit career pathways, ranging from business management to hospitality, information technology, and marketing and sales.

HCC operates dual-credit programs at 11 high schools in Fort Bend ISD, and several high schools in HISD, including Bellaire, Middle College, Sharpstown and Westbury. Students in the program attend both dual-credit and regular classes.

“We’re providing classes at zero tuition cost to all of our students, so they are able to attain the first part of enrolling in a college environment,” said Athena Walker, HCC College P-16 director. “I see this as mission because they may have seen a closed door before and we’re opening that door and saying, ‘Higher ed is a possibility.’

"When you realize you can go down that road, it will help you to get to where you are going and will help you attain your dream.”

 The impetus behind Stafford Municipal School District’s dual-credit program is Madeline Burillo-Hopkins, president of HCC Southwest College. In 2013, she personally reached out to Stafford MSD to form an educational partnership that led to the establishment of dual credit in the college and career center.

“Dual credit was small when I took over as principal,” Nordt said. “Now we’ve expanded to being able to offer all the core classes that a freshman or sophomore would take in their first couple of years in college plus five Level 1 certificate programs offered through the college and career center.”

“When we can offer dual-credit college courses for no tuition, it’s extremely important to this community because for every college course that a student can take with us for free, they won’t have to pay for it at a two-year or four-year college somewhere else,” she said.

Blake Hambleton, who teaches dual-credit filmmaking at the college and career center, said his students are happy to expand into a curriculum outside their basic high school courses.

“I see a lot of creativity,” he said. “In this day and age, there’s a lot of teaching to the test and a lot of creativity is lost. When students can come into my room and express themselves and be creative, it really does a lot for their self-esteem and gives them a great outlook and outlet for their lives.”

The desire for creativity helps drive Tony Nguyen, who he can’t wait to explore foods from different cultures.

“Hopefully in the future I’d like to be able to be active in the kitchen and to cook all the foods for different types of customers,” said Nguyen. “I’m mostly interested in Asian food, but I don’t feel I’ll be limited to different foods from throughout the world.”

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