Jesus Oropeza

Jesus Oropeza

The roots of Early College have been growing throughout rural Kern County for quite some time, bringing about change, not only for the students, but also for the greater community. In fact, it was nearly eight years ago that I came across the first rambunctious group of students who would embark on their Early College journey to change the trajectory for their future.

I met with approximately 40 students who were about to finish 8th grade and begin their summer vacation when they were approached with the opportunity to participate in a brand new program called Early College. I explained to them that during their four years of high school, they could simultaneously work to receive their associate degree. By working hard, and working smart, they would earn a head start on a successful future.

These young students mostly lived in the rural Delano area, attending Wonderful College Prep Academy, and even though they were not quite sure how they felt about doing schoolwork throughout their summers, they seized the opportunity.

Four years later, after countless meetings with these students and parents, every question was answered, every assignment was turned in, every class was passed and these students proved to us that they were committed to accomplishing great things. By watching these students flourish, I learned that creating pathways toward successful futures through education in rural communities was my passion and I couldn’t be more proud of the work we do every day at Bakersfield College.

The Kern High School District has since embraced the initiative, starting with their rural high schools in Arvin and Shafter, and we have now successfully implemented the program countywide, including in Wasco, McFarland, Lost Hills, Delano Joint Union High School District and many surrounding rural areas throughout Kern. In talking with students, it's easy to see that college is new to a lot of them, but they’re thriving. Most are first-generation students and approximately 80 percent of all BC’s Early College students are Latinx, demonstrating that Early College is also an effective strategy for us to close the equity gap throughout our service area. Additionally, as participation in BC’s Early College program continues to grow, student success outcomes remain above the standard for these students, proving that high school students are capable of the rigor and expectations necessary for college-level curriculum.

This kind of collaborative innovation has also brought about numerous pathways at each high school and has given access to all its students to be a part of pathways to ensure further equity in their program. Each of the programs established are unique and is a special collaboration between the school, the students, and Bakersfield College. For example, Delano Joint Union High School District has used our pathway model to create their own pathway that suits the needs of their specific students. Last year, one of their students graduated with their associate degree in the 12th grade and started at UCLA as a junior.

We should all be so proud of these communities for adopting Early College in their own unique way, providing educational pathways, and ensuring there is equity for all students. With our ever-changing world during this pandemic, our institutions have had to rethink our engagement with students to be extra intentional, reaching them where they are and serving them in the most supportive ways. For example, usually, this time of year we would be visiting our 8th grade partners' sites to introduce the program to our newest incoming class. This year, we have opted to create a short video that can be shared with these students to make sure the momentum we have created over these past few years is not slowed down, and more students may graduate with a head start in their college careers.

For me personally, as more students participate in the Early College program, I cannot help but think back to that first rambunctious group from eight years ago, and how far the early college program has come in rural communities and what the program will look like over the next eight years. With Early College being adopted throughout more school sites it is going to be common to see more cohorts like these in rural areas.

Jesus Oropeza is a counselor at Bakersfield College focused on Dual Enrollment, Early College and STEM Pathways.