Eighteen-year-old Raven Osborne received her bachelor’s degree in sociology with a minor in early-childhood education last Friday—but she doesn’t graduate from high school until May 22.
A senior at 21st Century Charter School, a public K-12 charter school in Gary, Ind., Raven is the first student in her school’s history to earn her bachelor’s degree while still enrolled in high school, Superintendent Kevin Teasley told Education Week Teacher.
Through a school program that pays for students’ college tuition through state funding, Raven began taking college courses at Ivy Tech Community College Northwest as a freshman, and soon earned her associate degree in general studies.
Teasley founded the nonprofit Greater Educational Opportunities Foundation as well as other charter schools in Colorado, Indiana, and Louisiana. He expressed his commitment to supporting students like Raven to excel and take on opportunities to get a head start on college.
He told USA Today that when he started the foundation, he spent $10,000 in state funds for the college program. In 2017, that number increased to $85,000.
The program began in 2005. “We thought we’d do what everybody else does, and that’s counsel students about the importance of going to college, showing them the difference in income with and without a degree,” said Teasley. “We took them on college tours, did scholarship and financial aid searches—but it wasn’t enough.”
21st Century Charter has a 100 percent poverty rate, Teasley said, and many students come from households without any college experience.
“I told my students, ‘I do believe in you, I think you are college material,’” he said. “We are going to start paying for tuition and removing all barriers for college for these kids. If it’s tuition, transportation, books—we’re going to start as early as 9th grade.”
Raven told Education Week Teacher that she took Ivy Tech’s Accuplacer skills assessment in 8thgrade—the required admissions test to begin taking college courses at the community college. Although she earned her associate degree at the beginning of her junior year, she decided not to graduate high school early—she wanted to graduate with her friends.
“I called up Indiana’s Department of Education, and they said there was no upper limit on college courses,” Teasley said. “Raven went on her own, with her Ivy Tech transcript, and enrolled as a transfer student at Purdue University’s Northwest Hammond campus. Every semester, I mailed a check for her tuition.”
Raven took about 15 credits a semester her junior and senior years, and the high school worked around her college schedule, as well as provided transportation for the 15-minute drive to Purdue each day.
“We were allowing that flexibility because we saw what she was doing and we want to see more of that happening,” Teasley said. “We don’t look at the state dollars as ours. The dollars we receive belong to the students, and we are here to be their advocates.”
This year, all 43 seniors at 21st Century High School are graduating and heading to college. On College Signing Day on May 11, the seniors will wear their graduation gowns with their college’s shirt underneath—and then they will do a “big reveal” to the rest of the school, from kindergarten through 11th grade.
Although Raven will soon earn her bachelor’s degree, she said she is now enrolling in a two-semester-long transition program to earn her teaching certification in elementary education. In the meantime, she will return to 21st Century Charter in the fall to serve as a reading interventionist for grades K-2.
“I want to stay here and give back to others who want to do what I have done so far,” she told the Chicago Tribune.
This semester, Raven has served as an intern in the elementary classrooms at 21st Century Charter for college credit. “I have enjoyed my internship, and I know I have lot to work on,” she told Education Week Teacher. “I’m looking forward to continue working with my mentors and learning more.”
As an elementary teacher, Raven hopes to encourage her students to pursue college. When she was in 3rd grade herself, a teacher told her she “simply didn’t have what it takes to succeed,” according to the Chicago Tribune.
“I would definitely want to have an optimistic and encouraging attitude for my future students to pick up on,” Raven said. “Students need to be told about the benefits of going to college, and that it’s not that far of a goal.”
Photo provided by Kevin Teasley.
A version of this news article first appeared in the Teaching Now blog.