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FHS seniors graduate with AA degree

ABOVE: Five Fairmont High School seniors will be graduating with their Associate’s degree. From left: Rayah Quiring, Angelica Kerekes, Kaycie Brookens, Grace Klunder and Mackenzie Householder.

FAIRMONT– Five of Fairmont High School’s seniors are not only weeks away from graduating high school, but they’ll be doing so with an Associate of Arts degree under their belts.

The five students are Kaycie Brookens, Mackenzie Householder, Angelica Kerekes, Grace Klunder and Rayah Quiring.

The students began taking either College in the School (CIS) or Postsecondary Enrollment Options (PSEO) classes their sophomore or junior years.

There are now 29 different CIS classes offered at Fairmont High School. The classes are dual-credit classes, meaning students receive both high school and college credits. Each class is taught by high school faculty members who have obtained their master’s degree or additional graduate credits in specific curriculum areas, making them certified to teach college classes.

The majority of the 29 classes are credited through Minnesota West, though some are through Minnesota State University-Mankato.

There are also PSEO classes, which all of the five students took advantage of through online classes either through Minnesota West or Winona State University.

While a handful of Fairmont High School students have graduated with an Associate’s degree before, guidance counselor Scott Geerdes said it’s fair to say this is a unique situation considering there are five out of the 117 students in the senior class.

“Not only are they highly intelligent young people, they have a great sense of time management skills,” he said.

Geerdes said not only have they been able to balance their academic work, but they’re all involved in multiple extracurricular activities.

“The credentials of this group… they’re not only excelling at the high school level, but are all-conference, all-state and even performing at the national level in their interest areas which is truly amazing,” Geerdes said.

While the district boasts all of these classes and opportunities, obtaining an Associate’s degree was something the students had to actively pursue.

“It’s definitely something I sought out,” Brookens said.

Householder said she overheard Brookens talking about it and she knew she had taken a lot of PSEO/CIS classes so she looked into it further and found out graduating with and Associate’s degree was possible.

The students said the guidance counselors at Fairmont High School were helpful, but they also worked closely with a counselor at Minnesota West.

“She knew what courses we needed to take to fulfill the Associate’s degree,” Householder said.

“I can’t imagine trying to figure it out on your own,” Kerekes said.

They all agreed it was a tedious process between figuring out what classes need to be taken, forming a schedule and ordering books.

Geerdes said the minimum number of credits high school students would earn in a year is 12. The most a student could earn is 16 credits, with no study hall or honor flexes.

The five students would sometimes be taking more than that, depending on what they needed. Klunder said she took 24 credits this semester so needed to have a petition signed to allow for it.

When asked if pursuing an Associate’s degree is something the students would recommend, they collectively responded with a resounding “yes.”

“Especially if they’re stying within the state and going to a public college. It will automatically transfer them,” Brookens said.

Kerekes said, “Even if they’re not going to go for a degree, try taking some PSEO classes to see if you like it. I think a lot more people are taking PESO.”

“It takes off a lot of tuition and jump-starts you into your major so you can get a jump start and be prepared,” Householder said.

Saving money is a big benefit. Geerdes explained that in the state of Minnesota, CIS and PSEO classes are free for students and families through a tuition reimbursement through the state.

As for what’s next, Quiring is going to Minnesota State University- Mankato for nursing. Householder is going to Concordia-Moorehead for elementary education and special education. Brookens plans to attend Grinnell College, for political science and policy studies. Klunder will go to Winona State University for Mathematics and Kerekes tentatively plans to attend Liberty University for Integrated Communications.

Brookens, who is going to a liberal arts college out-of-state, may not have all of her credits transfer. However, she still sees the benefit.

“Getting the foundation of knowledge is really helpful. Even if my credits don’t transfer on paper, the knowledge is transferrable,” she said.

The students reflected on how the opportunities they had in high school helped them decide what they want to pursue moving forward,.

Householder was able to earn credits while helping out teaching summer school at Fairmont Elementary School.

“It helped me figure out what area I want to teach in,” she said.

Quiring got her CNA license through Minnesota West and was able to take some PSEO nursing classes that taught her different terms and general knowledge that she’ll need later.

Klunder said she had the opportunity to do some tutoring while in high school which she enjoyed.

Kerekes said, “I took a communication class through Minnesota West and that was one of my favorite PSEO classes I’ve taken. I realized I really liked the content.”

Geerdes stressed that students wouldn’t have the chance to pursue this opportunity if it weren’t for the faculty possessing credentials to teach at the high school level, or the support of administration and school board members.

Another key thing needed is determined and driven students who want to pursue it.

“This is not for everyone. It’s not easy to do. You have to be committed,” Geerdes said.

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