DADE CITY — While most of his peers are in their second period class at Pasco High, Timothy Dombrowski typically has a few hours to kick around before punching in for his 12:30 p.m. shift at McDonald's.
The job offers a humbling and valuable training experience for Dombrowski, who is hoping to get some good news from Harvard or his second, "and most realistic choice," the University of Florida.
Those are the not-to-distant dreams for Dombrowski, 17, a strong contender for 2012 valedictorian for Pasco High who already has an associates of arts degree under his belt.
Dombrowski has one Advanced Placement U.S. History class and an online science class to complete before earning his high school diploma on June 1 with the rest of his class. But in a backward kind of scenario, he already donned a cap and gown and walked with his older sister and fellow graduate, Jennifer , 20, during a commencement in December at the Pasco Hernando Community College west campus.
"She was very enthusiastic about it," said Dombrowski, adding that his sister, currently attending nursing school at Rasmussen College, finished up with one course last semester just so they could graduate together.
What got him from there to here is a healthy appetite for the varied.
"I like trying a little bit of everything," Dombrowski said.
Even an on-the-job training program at the local fast food joint.
Dombrowski, the youngest of five, spent his elementary years homeschooled by his parents, Susan and George Dombrowski, in a suburb outside Hartford, Conn. He took to the public schools as a seventh-grade student at Pasco Middle when the family moved to Dade City, where George Dombrowski owns Keepsake Video.
"That was a big change," he said. "Coming from there to this rural setting."
At Pasco High, he went for the smorgasbord approach, taking honors and advanced placement classes and online courses via Florida Virtual School. He also signed up for dual enrollment college classes starting in his sophomore year, after testing the waters in an Introduction to Sociology Class his sister was taking at PHCC.
"She could drive me, so it was really convenient," said Dombrowski, who racked up his college credits during the school year and over the summer high school break. "I didn't have to deal with the transportation problems that a lot of kids who don't have their license have."
And the price was right.
"That I don't have to pay for tuition or books was a major factor in me wanting to dual enroll," he said.
Dombrowski is one of about 1,100 Pasco students who took advantage of the dual enrollment program during the first semester of 2011-12 — some at the three PHCC campuses and others through the 50 classes offered on high school campuses.
It's one of two options to obtain college credit while still in high school. The other is through the advanced placement program.
"We're seeing an increase in both AP and dual enrollment," said Darrell Huling, Pasco schools supervisor of curriculum and instruction for secondary programs. Dual enrollment might be more appealing for some, he said, because there are a wider variety of courses offered.
"AP has about 27 (classes) offered right now at the high schools. Through dual enrollment, we have a much wider menu at the schools and at the PHCC campuses," he said.
"The other difference is the way students earn that college credit," Huling said. "If they pass a dual enrollment class, they will earn that college credit. Students in AP class have to pass the class and a test to earn that credit. So for some, the dual enrollment is the route they choose to go."
It's also a boon for those who elect to stay local. While advanced placement college credits are accepted by schools throughout the country, dual enrollments credits are more easily transferred to Florida colleges and universities.
"I think it's (dual enrollment) a good option, but I think you have to see what suits the individual more," Dombrowski said. "I wasn't really picky about where I would go to college and if you're planning on staying in state then dual enrollment could be for you. If you want to go to school out-of-state, then you probably want to take AP. I took both dual enrollment and AP so I would have some college credits no matter what."
Those high school AP classes along with his stints on the school's tennis team and as captain of the swim team, also helped "keep me in the high school loop," he said.
Between earned credits and his eligibility for the Bright Futures Scholarship program, the smorgasbord approach could really pay off.
If Dombrowski attends college in Florida, he will have already knocked some time and cost off his undergraduate studies. And while his credits won't transfer to Harvard or other out-of-state universities, there's still a benefit, he said.
"I think the experience has prepared me more for a college setting," Dombrowski said. "I think it's helped prepare me for the level of classes I'll be taking in undergraduate school."