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    By Todd Martin

    A trio of highly successful new college students returned to their middle school Tuesday with powerfully tangible testimony about the value of academic choices.

    Kiani Sheppard, Rachel Engelbrect and Katherine Dunham, all top-10 graduates of the Harker Heights High School Class of 2016 presented the benefits of choosing dual credit to AVID classes at Union Grove Middle School.

    AVID is an elective offered at all Killeen ISD middle schools and high schools that provides a variety of college readiness skills and experiences. The course name is an acronym that means Advancement Via Individual Determination.

    The three first-year university students, in their final week of semester break, presented a Power Point presentation in Union Grove AVID classes, showing the financial and academic value of choosing more rigorous high school courses.

    Killeen ISD provides dual credit through partnership with area colleges including the Texas Bioscience Institute through Temple College, as well as Advanced Placement courses recognized nationwide.

    The school district covers fees for students taking advantage of those options and provides transportation for high school students commuting to the TBI campus in Temple for a morning and afternoon session.

    The three students praised the advanced options available, which provided them enough credits to enter college as sophomores or juniors and led to other opportunities not open to traditional first-year university students.

    Engelbrect, a first-year University of Texas student in the mechanical engineering program, completed the two-year TBI program, earned an associate’s degree from TC and entered UT as a junior.

    In addition to saving time and money, Engelbrect said she entered a specialized research class, has opportunities for internships and is part of a university engineering team that works on racecars.

    Dunham, last year’s Harker Heights salutatorian, also took advantage of TBI, earned an associate’s degree and attends UT as a biology major. She also completed five AP courses in high school.

    Those dual credit courses, Dunham said, effectively satisfied two years of her college course requirement. Now, she plans to attend UT three years and take advantage of courses she wants to take and not be limited to a strict degree plan.

    Sheppard organized the visit to Union Grove, motivated, she said, by her parents who are both KISD teachers.

    She is a first-year student at Prairie View A&M University studying engineering. She took AP courses in high school. Those courses require students to take an end-of-course exam and usually score 3 or 4 on a 5-point scale to earn college credit.

    Mark and Sibyl Sheppard, elementary school teachers in Killeen, suggested to their daughter the value of raising awareness of the strong value of dual credit.

    The three college students pointed out that their choices to take the more rigorous load in high school helped pave their way to higher grade-point averages and stronger preparation for entering the university full time.

    “I can relax a little,” said Sheppard. “It’s not as big a course load,” she said. “My first semester went well. I was able to adjust into independent living.”

    During questioning with eighth-graders, the college students agreed on the importance of making a habit of regular scheduled studying.

    Dunham said she studies certain subjects on regular times and days to stay on top of those courses.

    Pointing out the shock of making independent decisions, Engelbrect said she learned that sleep is an investment of time that leads to more productive study and better grades.

    While college is fun, the three students explained that oftentimes students must choose to study and work on projects rather than spend time with friends. They said success in college requires attending class, studying hard and getting adequate sleep.

    The college students recommended learning to work in a group, budgeting time to study and volunteering in the community to learn about jobs and the world.

    “I think it was really beneficial to hear from those students,” said Union Grove AVID teacher Keri Luepke. “It’s impactful for them to hear from someone close to their age.”

    January 10, 2017