by Linda Hass, Published November 28, 2012
Elliott Styles' high school diploma will come with enviable perks: about 40 credits from Eastern Michigan University, acting credits in a major university production, and confidence about his career path. Not bad for a high school junior.
"Eastern has given me a head start on college," says Styles, 16, who is among hundreds of high school students to participate in the Early College Alliance program (ECA), a partnership between local school districts and Eastern, which hosts classes on its campus. The innovative program, established in 2007, is designed to give students a chance to work toward a college degree while still in high school.
"By immersing myself in a college environment, I've discovered college is not as scary as some people make it out to be. I feel prepared," says Styles, who is on track to graduate from Whitmore Lake High School in the summer of 2014. Eastern is among college options, he says.
Styles' immersion at Eastern also included auditioning for a role in a university theater production-an experience that helped to reinforce his career path, he said. "The theater community was so encouraging and the experience was so rewarding that I realized this is what I want to do," says Styles, adding that he plans to major in musical theater.
This fall, Styles was cast as Bassanio, a spendthrift young romantic in William Shakespeare's "The Merchant of Venice," performed by the Eastern Michigan University theatre. "Elliott brought a fresh, articulate dimension to the role," says Lee Stille, who directed the play and is a professor of theatre & performance studies in the department of communication, media & theatre at EMU.
"It takes a very disciplined student to juggle homework and the time commitment of theater, which includes over 20 hours a week on rehearsals," adds Stille. "Elliott showed he has that discipline. He's a talented young man."
Wendy Benya, an ECA science instructor at Eastern and Styles' CORE adviser, agrees. ""I sometimes give students the opportunity to participate in science case studies and Elliott livens them up with his acting flair," says Benya.
Theatre is among course electives for ECA students, who work with counselors and parents to create an Educational Development Plan that complies with Michigan high school graduation requirements, State examination requirements and EMU's general education program, said Crystal Jackson, ECA administrative assistant.
In addition to giving advanced students an opportunity to enroll in college-level coursework, the ECA provides an alternative for students who are either struggling or who don't feel connected to their high school by adding to the smorgasbord of educational options available in the district. It also offers them opportunities to gain vital skills necessary for college success, says Jackson.
When students complete the program, they will receive a diploma from their high school, a certificate of completion by the ECA, and an official transcript from EMU, Jackson added. And in Styles' case, there is another perk that can't be framed-the confidence that comes from a head start on college.