SOUTH SIOUX CITY — Alondra Gonzalez’s weekends were pretty full this past spring. In May, she received her associate degree diploma during a commencement ceremony at Northeast Community College in Norfolk while a little over a week later, she crossed the stage at the Orpheum Theatre in Sioux City to accept her high school diploma from Bishop Heelan Catholic High School.

“And it worked out great. I graduated in May with my high school degree from Heelan and my associate degree in pre-professional — dental from Northeast,” she said.

Gonzalez is among a growing number of students who have been putting in extra time to earn college credit while still in high school. She has witnessed firsthand how well such an endeavor works. Her brother, Axel, also attended Northeast Community College. He, too, earned an associate of arts degree before graduating from high school in 2016.

“So I always kind of knew that was what I wanted to do just to get ahead.”

After Axel Gonzalez graduated from Northeast, he transferred to Iowa State University, where he earned a business degree with a concentration in supply chain management. He was initially employed at a trucking company and now works at the information technology company, Sterling, in Sioux City.

Alondra Gonzalez plans to attend the University of South Dakota beginning this fall where she will pursue a bachelor of science in nursing degree. She aspires to become a nurse practitioner.

She began her journey by taking online classes through Northeast the year before high school and took classes over the summer months and during each of the four academic years. Her interest in health care peaked after she enjoyed taking classes in high school including biology and anatomy.

“So I knew I wanted to do something medical. And in high school, I had the chance to take a CNA (certified nursing assistant) class, and that’s when I decided I wanted to do nursing.”

The commitment does appear to be a lot to balance for a high school student, but Gonzalez said it came down to scheduling and the time of year when classes were held. She liked that Northeast offered courses over the summer so the work could be completed in a matter of weeks compared to a full semester. She said it was overwhelming at times, but it was worth it.

“It was like, ‘Why not take the opportunity while I have it?’ Because I have a very supportive mom, that helps me out a lot.”

Her mother, Maria Gonzalez, is a recruiter for Northeast at its extended campus in South Sioux City.

Gonzalez did not let her studying and online education stop her from participating in extracurricular activities in high school such as tennis and show choir or spending time with friends. She was able to do the work at home or she took her laptop to a library or a coffee shop over the summer months when she had more free time.

“And there are also classes that are taken within a four-month span, like winter classes and stuff, so they don't last the whole semester,” she said. “But when I was more involved in extracurriculars, it was still possible to take part because a lot of the time I would just dedicate a couple of hours over weekends to doing schoolwork and it worked out fine.”

Gonzalez said she is glad she put the time in to get a start on her college education. For one, it will save her a considerable amount of money.

“And I'm not going to have to take so many classes once I do transfer to a four-year university. Also, Northeast is great in the fact that it is a smaller college; you can have a close relationship with your teachers, and they do tend to your needs more. And, if you're behind or you need help, they’re ready to be there for you.”

Through Northeast Community College’s early college program, grades and credits earned may be used toward a degree at Northeast or transferred to another college or university. It also allows students to become familiar with the college environment before their first day of college. Students may earn college credit while in high school through dual credit, Fridays @ Northeast and college credit-only classes. Typically, students who take college credit courses during high school are twice as likely to attend college after graduation.

Gonzalez and her brother are not the only ones in the family looking at earning a high school diploma and a college degree in the same year. Alondra has a younger cousin who is considering it. She encourages others to also contemplate following the same path, calling it, “very doable.”

“If someone is in high school, they need to talk with their counselor. In some high schools, let's say you need to take a history course, well, you can just take it with Northeast and it'll be dual credit. That helps a lot. I'd say even if it does seem overwhelming, just try taking one class each semester and see if you can build on that.”

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Want to learn more?

To learn more about early college opportunities at Northeast Community College, visit northeast.edu/admissions/early-college.

In other news

Norfolk Public Schools and the Norfolk Panther football team will be honoring veterans and current members of our military services at the varsity football game against Lincoln Northeast on Friday, Sept. 30.

Benjamin Avenue update; Maintenance work at transfer station; Woodcarvers going again; For the Girls event planned.