Indiana, Louisiana high schools helping low-income students earn associate, bachelor’s degrees

A handful of high schools in some of the country's toughest neighborhoods created a curriculum to help low-income students earn college credits while attending high school.

Kevin Teasley, founder of the nonprofit Greater Educational Opportunities Foundation, told Fox News his schools empower students to do more than what traditional schools allow them to do.

Its flagship location, 21st Century Charter School in Gary, Indiana, was founded in 2005. The GEO Next Generation High School in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, was developed three years ago, and the GEO Next Generation High School in Indianapolis was launched during the pandemic.

College acceptance letters charter school

College acceptance letters on the walls of the 21st Century Charter School in Gary, Ind. (Kevin Teasley)

When Teasley opened his first school in Gary, he had a mission to combat the high school dropout rate in the area, which was about 50%. He wanted to inspire kids to not only go to college but graduate college.

For several years, he implemented various college prep courses to help students ready themselves for the transition to college. They worked on college applications and toured college campuses.

However, Teasley realized it wasn't working.

He came to the conclusion that the students he was trying to help already had the mindset that they weren't going to college because no one in their families had gone before them. About 90% of the households in the area didn't have a college graduate, Teasley said.

Acceptance letters charter school Gary Indiana

A student stands in front of college acceptance letters on the walls of the 21st Century Charter School in Gary, Ind. (Kevin Teasley)

In 2010, one of Teasley's brightest students, Vincent, said he was dropping out of school. He was 16 years old and just finishing up his sophomore year.

"He looked at me, and he said, 'Look, nobody in my family went to college. I'm not going to college. And my family needs me to bring money home to help pay the bills,'" Teasley recalled.

To convince him to stay, Teasley told his star student that if he passed the college entrance exam, he would pay for him to take college courses while in high school.

"It's not that he didn't want to go to college … he didn't think he could afford it," Teasley said. "He didn't think he was college material, and he didn't think anybody supported him."

That's when Teasley realized he needed to replace the old way of doing things. Rather than focusing on the process, Teasley said he started focusing on each individual student.

It all started with Vincent.

21st Century Charter

Students at the 21st Century Charter School in Gary, Ind. (Kevin Teasley)

"We supported him the whole way. And two years later, he not only graduated from our high school on time, he graduated as the first student in northwest Indiana history to actually earn a full associate degree," he said. "Two years of college while in high school."

To celebrate, Teasley brought all students from kindergarten through 12th grade into the gym to celebrate Vincent's success.

Now, every high school student who walks through the halls of one of Teasley's schools has that same opportunity, and it's free of charge. Teasley's program covers the cost of tuition, books, transportation, counseling and academic support.

When the students are not taking their regular high school classes, they're sitting in class on a college campus. Students in Gary can take courses at Indiana University Northwest, Purdue University Northwest or Ivy Tech Community College.

Gary, Indiana, students

Students at the GEO Next Generation High School in Baton Rouge.  (Kevin Teasley)

Students in Louisiana take courses at Baton Rouge Community College, and students in Indianapolis take classes at Ivy Tech, Indiana University–Purdue University Indianapolis and Marian University.

"Instead of taking English 11 in 11th grade, they take English 101 at the college level," which counts for a high school and college credit, Teasley said.

Over the last 10 years, 50 students at the flagship school in Gary have earned an associate degree while in high school, and one student earned a bachelor's degree.

Today, the graduation rate at the school in Gary is 95%. The school's college readiness rate is also 90%, compared to the local high school rate of 37%.

"Remember, we're coming out of an environment where most people are dropping out of high school," Teasley said. "They're not accustomed to graduating from high school, and they're certainly not accustomed to going to college."

The schools in Louisiana and Indianapolis are only a few years old. However, students at both schools are already on track to earn associate degrees next year, according to Teasley.

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