Indiana, PA - Indiana County

Penns Manor grad first to earn two diplomas

by on July 06, 2014 2:00 AM

Meagan Hilty may seem like your average high school graduate. She earned distinguished honors and made it a point to be involved in several extracurricular activities.

But this spring, Hilty received her diploma from Penns Manor Area High School — with an accompanying associate’s degree from Penn Highlands Community College.

And she did it a year earlier than anticipated.

Her accomplishments wouldn’t have been possible without the dual enrollment program the school district offers to its students.

Penns Manor has two cooperative agreements, one with Penn Highlands and another with Mount Aloysius College that allows the district to offer dual enrollment credits to its high school students so they can receive college credit while they are earning high school credit.

Hilty participated in the associate’s degree program, which is strictly with Penn Highlands, said Daren Johnston, Penns Manor’s acting superintendent. However, he added, Penn Highlands uses some of Mount Aloysius’ credits to transfer over to allow any student going through the associate’s degree program to get their degree at the same time as their high school diploma.

The school offers a dual enrollment program “to try to give students that cutting-edge advantage” and “at the same time … working through the community college like Penn Highlands makes it more economically feasible for students in the district, because a large portion of those credits transfer, so they’re paying at that community college rate,” Johnston said.

The district’s first intentions were for the first person to complete the associate’s degree program in 2015, he said.

But Hilty, “when she heard about the program, wanted to obtain that at the same time, so she actually surpassed the district’s goal, so to speak, and she took it on,” making her the first and only in the class of 2014 to earn an associate’s degree at the same time as her diploma, Johnston said.

Hilty started the associate’s degree program in 10th grade, when it was implemented at the high school.

“I was like, ‘Well, why not? I’ll just do it,’” she said.

She completed what is typically a four-year program in three.

It was “a challenge” trying to figure out how the high school could work her schedule with Penn Highlands’ and to try to fit all of her classes in, she said.

Classes she was supposed to complete her senior year were finished in her sophomore year.

“It was a big mess, but the guidance counselors really helped to work with it, the school board, the staff. Penn Highlands really worked with me. They were really good to help with all of that,” even though they told her she was young, Hilty said.

Some of the classes Hilty enrolled in for the program were taught by Penns Manor teachers, while she took other courses online. Some of Penn Highlands’ dual enrollment courses offered at the high school include anatomy and physiology, chemistry, American history, psychology and Spanish. Only students who paid for the dual enrollment credit are the ones who earn college credit.

Johnston said he thinks almost every school district in Indiana County has dual enrollment, “but no one has gone to the degree of having the associate’s degree.” Ligonier Valley is the other school district that Penn Highlands has worked with, he added. Hilty graduated with three girls from Ligonier Valley in the associate’s degree program, she said.

“Overall, it was a good experience, really helpful for college,” she said. Even though she’s just starting out, she said about 12 courses with Penn Highlands credits transferred class-for-class, and six were electives.

With her introductory courses out of the way, Hilty’s schedule at Saint Francis University will be freed up to allow her to finish quicker and focus on courses “contoured” to her biology major instead of all of the electives incoming freshmen normally need to take.

The number of dual enrollment classes Hilty took throughout her high school career varied. At some points she was taking two or three, and even taking college classes and doing summer work for her honors track over the summer, she said.

And her course workload didn’t stop her from being involved in social activities. She played volleyball and softball and belonged to a “wide variety” of clubs such as SADD and FBLA, which have activities throughout the school year. Hilty qualified for the FBLA state competition in Hershey, something she had to work out with her online teacher to get approval for turning in assignments late.

“They were really helpful with that” and understood her involvement in extracurricular activities, she said.

Hilty said most of it was “finding a balance between not only your high school work but the college work and most of your extracurricular activities, because I wasn’t going to give those up just to do the program.”

Another big thing, Hilty said, was having to keep track of when a semester started and ended for high school versus college, since they’re on different schedules, to know when assignments were due for which class.

“That was the big thing when I was working on graduating, because I graduated (from Penn Highlands) in May and we still had a month of school left,” she said. “They had to work on how they were going to get my grades turned in so that I could graduate and so that everything was done and completed.” That resulted in Hilty completing a lot of her college courses before the end of the school year and receiving her associate’s of arts in general studies degree in May.

Penns Manor has approximately 50 students who take dual enrollment, Johnston said.

“However … when you commit to the associate’s degree, it’s not (as simple as) just taking one or two classes that can go toward college credits. It’s a load,” he said. “So for (Meagan) to take all that on is quite a tremendous task and accomplishment.”

Johnston said three students are in line to complete the dual enrollment program in 2015. Students can start accumulating credits toward the associate’s degree beginning in ninth grade, and start out with a one-credit “introduction to college-type course” followed by a social studies course.

Currently, the general studies track is the only degree plan offered at Penns Manor, but Johnston said it’s the district’s hope to create an associate’s degree in agricultural sciences and business.

Johnston thanked the efforts of the Penns Manor teachers, “because they have to be willing. They get no extra pay, nothing of the sort, but they have to sign on and go through orientation and training too, saying that they understand what the requirements are” of the syllabus for each course “so that material is presented in the class to the students.”

Because Hilty was building two transcripts at the same time, the district had to utilize its guidance counselors, Joe Packer and Lisa Donatelli, who have to make sure all the credits are accumulated, as well as the staff at Penn Highlands.

Hilty thanked her family and friends for their support.

“I know I wouldn’t have been able to get through the program” if she was confronted with negativity, said Hilty, adding that she “had those moments” where she thought, “I hate this. I’m just going to throw the book away. I’m not doing any more work.”

“Definitely you need the little push, you know, ‘It will be worth it in the end, just keep going,’” she said.

Her hard work having paid off, Hilty is encouraging students to take advantage of the program.

“Definitely, if you can get the opportunity to do it, it is so helpful to go into college, because you’ve got all these college freshmen coming in and they have no idea what college is like,” she said. Writing “multiple college papers,” “knowing how a college class works” and developing time management skills and “just knowing how college works going in, it kind of helps,” she said.

“It’s easier than going in blindsided.”



Heather Blake is the wire editor and an assistant web editor for The Indiana Gazette. She covers courts, Saltsburg and Homer City borough councils and Penns Manor and United school districts, in addition to writing feature articles. She can be reached at hblake@indianagazette.net.
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