The first day of high school was extra special for a group of 100 Irving ISD freshmen who are the inaugural class of the South Irving Collegiate Academy. Through Irving’s first Pathways in Technology Early College High School (P-TECH), students can graduate with a high school diploma plus an associate degree from Dallas College, saving them and their families tens of thousands of dollars on college tuition.
“Everyone was so excited that we were going to offer something in South Irving,” said Irving ISD Superintendent Magda Hernandez. “These students are taking college courses in their first semester of high school and achieving great results.”
This is true for freshman Angelina Martinez, 14, beginning her first year of high school. She is currently most interested in cybersecurity but knows the program’s flexibility will allow her to explore other fields. “I felt like South Irving provided me more opportunities to achieve my career goals,” she said.
Maria Benavides, mother of 14-year-old freshman Emmanuel, is equally excited for the program. “We decided to send Emmanuel to South because it is an opportunity that I wish I had growing up. He will be saving time and money as he works for his diploma and degree. We see how hard Principal Eber Perla and the staff work to support all the students so they can be successful.”
P-TECH programs are specifically designed to provide students access to dual credit educational opportunities while increasing degree attainment and industry certifications for historically underrepresented students, said Dr. Tiffany Kirksey, vice provost educational partnerships at Dallas College.
Dallas College’s participation in this P-TECH aligns with its mission to transform lives through higher education. “South Irving Collegiate Academy offers new educational and career possibilities in an area identified as increasingly pivotal to new employers moving into the region,” said Dr. Kirksey.
This new school joins the robust lineup of dual credit programs offered by Dallas College. Currently, Dallas College offers 77 Early College High School, P-TECH and Texas Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (T-STEM) learning opportunities in partnership with 18 area ISDs.
South Irving Collegiate Academy Principal Eber Perla said that being founding principal is both a privilege and huge responsibility. “We’ve been intentional about every decision,” he said. “The decisions we make impact future generations, so our team constantly revisits choices to ensure they reflect students’ best interest.”
Focusing on in-demand career fields, the P-TECH students have a choice of earning an Associate of Arts in Teaching or Associate of Science with the possibility of a premedical or predental focus.
“Industry partners include our very own school district, Haim Vasquez Immigration Law Firm, HKS Architects and UT Southwestern Medical Center. They provide not only internships but work-based learning experiences, guest speakers, mentoring and job shadowing,” explained Perla. “The Associate of Science degree provides flexibility to explore and engage with multiple career fields.”
“The current shortage of teachers is not going away,” said Hernandez, who was instrumental in founding the district’s first “I Am Next” program, identifying students who express interest in the education field. Through this “grow your own” initiative, students graduate with Education Aide 1 certification and two years of internship experience.
“The P-TECH program is an opportunity to fast-track their career aspirations. Through our partnership with Dallas College, our students can complete a four-year higher education program debt-free,” said Hernandez.
“The teacher educator shortage that we are reading about every day is very real, and it is going to take strategic partnerships between educator preparation programs and school systems to solve,” said Dr. Rob DeHaas, vice provost of the Dallas College School of Education. “By eliminating barriers to access that often exist for students pursuing higher education, we believe this grow your own teaching model with Irving ISD can truly be a game-changing solution to addressing their educator pipeline needs.”
“We pride ourselves in developing this pipeline of talent within our organization and love it when our students return home to serve,” said Hernandez. Perla, who grew up in South Irving, is himself a homegrown educator, and Hernandez was his second-grade teacher.
Irving students are 70% Hispanic/Latino, with emergent bilinguals accounting for nearly 50% of the student body, explained Hernandez. “We wanted to ensure we provided a choice school in their neighborhood that would truly attract students to stay in South Irving,” she said.
Each year, an additional 100-125 students will join South Irving Collegiate Academy as freshmen, attending the Dallas College Irving Center campus for the first two years and then transitioning for a full college experience at Dallas College North Lake Campus for their junior and senior years.