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More Pasco high school students on fast track in college

River Ridge High School student Corissa Doig works out in the school’s weight room. Doig gathered enough credits to graduate a year early from high school while earning credits from PHCC. She will attend Florida Gulf Coast University.
River Ridge High School student Corissa Doig works out in the school’s weight room. Doig gathered enough credits to graduate a year early from high school while earning credits from PHCC. She will attend Florida Gulf Coast University.
Published May 28, 2013

NEW PORT RICHEY — Corissa Doig doesn't believe in half efforts.

Not in weightlifting, where she competed despite warnings that her joints could give out any time.

Not at work, where she puts in double shifts whenever possible.

And certainly not at River Ridge High School, where the 17-year-old started the year as a junior and ended as a graduating senior with 48 credits toward her associate's degree.

"I'm just passionate about what I want to do," Doig said. "I'm passionate about what I don't want to do. I've never been handed anything. I work for everything."

Now she has her sights set on an athletic training degree at Florida Gulf Coast University, where she begins in August as a second-semester sophomore with an eye toward moving quickly into a doctorate program in physical therapy.

"I just want to get into my field as fast as I can," Doig said. "My mom has always pushed me to be the best I can be."

That push is on all over Pasco County. An increasing number of high school students are headed in a similar direction, completing dual enrollment, Advanced Placement, International Baccalaureate and other accelerated programs to get a leg up.

In dual enrollment, for instance, 1,255 students took Pasco-Hernando Community College courses in 2011-12, compared to 628 five years earlier. The district counted 1,120 students in the program in the first semester of this year.

The district had 4,276 students taking AP courses this year, up from 1,806 in 2007-08. And its IB enrollment stood at 575, up from 379.

The goal has been to increase the academic challenges for students so they will be better prepared for college. Students and parents have also viewed the opportunities as ones to save them the cost of tuition by earning university credits long before matriculating.

Though popular, the path includes risks.

"If they take those courses and do well ... then, yes, it does benefit them in the competition for space at USF because we do offer our space to the students who look like they're going to be the most successful," said Bob Spatig, assistant vice president for admissions at the University of South Florida.

But, particularly for the students in dual enrollment courses, poor performance or the wrong class selection could outstrip the benefit of having the credits. When they arrive at university, these students are expected to be on track for their majors as juniors.

That means they must be ready to take classes with older students, academically prepared for the higher-level material, and with all the proper credits to complete on time.

"If a student is going to do the high school AA program, they have to be more forward-thinking," said Zina Evans, University of Florida vice president for enrollment management. "We want the student who got their AA, for their credits to be very useful for them."

That message resonated for Mitchell High senior Jayde Reid, who graduates this spring with 59 or 60 credits, depending on the outcome of her final round of AP tests.

An aspiring writer, Reid, 18, took pains to make sure that the credits she was earning in dual enrollment would dovetail with her plans to major in creative writing at the University of Central Florida, so she would have time to include a semester of study abroad.

"I have so many friends who have several credits, and I don't think half have checked whether they will need to retake the classes. I didn't want to have to do that," she said. "I immediately did an audit of my degree once I decided. ... I was lucky enough to have the epiphany in seventh grade that I wanted to be a writer."

Pursuing her goal has meant busy days and little sleep: Reid has taken college courses, high school classes and online lessons while working as her school's yearbook editor, itself a practically full-time job. This summer, she said, will be her first in years with down time.

She's not sure if she likes the idea much.

"I have a ridiculous amount of intrinsic motivation," Reid said, "because I'm incredibly passionate about writing and learning. I want so badly to travel, and to be able to do that I identified that to do it I would make short-term sacrifice for the long-term benefit. Finally I'm starting to reap the benefits."

Doig shared the enthusiasm of looking forward to her next adventure — and said things easily could have gone another way.

She entered high school overweight and often ridiculed. She's been a good student, but never tops in her class.

With hard work and a supportive weightlifting coach, she lost 70 pounds and gained confidence, making it to state competition one year. In learning about the training as well as the nutrition, fitness and therapy associated with the sport, Doig came to determine her future path.

"I just want to make the best of my life," she said.

The sooner, the better — just like in everything else, she added.

"I've always been like that since I was a kid," Doig said. "If I hear about something that is interesting, I want to do it just that second, and I want it to be the best that I can do it."

Jeffrey S. Solochek can be reached at jsolochek@tampabay.com, (813) 909-4614 or on Twitter @jeffsolochek. For more education news visit the Gradebook at tampabay.com/blogs/gradebook.

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