Walking Across Two Stages

Montez Holton, Valedictorian of the East St. Louis Senior High School Class of 2018, walked across two stages in May: earning a high school diploma and associate’s degree.

Montez Holton
Montez Holton

Montez Holton, Valedictorian of the East St. Louis Senior High School Class of 2018, walked across two stages in May: earning a high school diploma and associate’s degree.

Montez and 29 other Flyers are participants in Running Start, a partnership program between School District 189 and Southwestern Illinois College (SWIC). Montez had to qualify on academic merit to take all his Junior and Senior level classes at SWIC. He paid $0 for his associate’s degree, as District 189 covered all his tuition, books, supplies, meals and transportation expenses.

Montez plans to use his 68 college hours of credit to transfer to Fisk University in Nashville, Tennessee. He will enter this fall as a college Junior on a full-tuition scholarship worth about $20,000 per year. Since the cost of Fisk is approximately $32,000 per year for tuition, fees, housing, and meals, Montez will begin his college career with a $64,000 savings.

Is Early College Worth the Sacrifice?

Although he and his family are very proud and excited about Montez’s accomplishments, he will tell you that it did not come without a cost. He ran cross-country and track for two years but quickly discovered that working up to 30 hours per week and taking college-level courses left little time for practice and competition.

“I tried to go to practice and compete the first semester,” said Montez, “but studying for college courses and juggling everything was overwhelming.”  He said that he misses that part of high school, but the college credit is worth the sacrifice. Montez says that he would tell anyone choosing Running Start to be ready to be independent, work hard, and sacrifice.

29 Others in Running Start

Is Montez an outlier? Absolutely not. The first Running Start cohort was from the Class of 2017, which celebrated 4 seniors who earned both a high school diploma and associate’s degree. Now there are 29 others from East St. Louis Senior High School in the Running Start program – five others graduating like Montez with two diplomas – and even more who are on track to graduate next year. All are earning transferable college credits through the program and getting a “running start” on their postsecondary ambitions.