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Tide Nyenga, left, and Brody Hayworth work on Nyenga’s car. As seniors this fall, both students at Roncalli Catholic High School will begin earning credits for an associate degree in auto mechanics at Omaha-based Metropolitan Community College through a partnership called the Career Academy Program. PHOTO BY JOE RUFF

Roncalli Catholic paves road to two-year degrees at community college

“I am extremely excited about this opportunity!” said Cameron Adams, a junior at Roncalli Catholic High School in Omaha and one of eight students who will participate this fall in a new partnership for the school with Metropolitan Community College in Omaha called the Career Academy Program.
 
It’s a unique offering among Catholic high schools in the archdiocese, one that Roncalli Catholic turned to as officials noticed not every student at the college preparatory school wanted to enter a four-year college. The academy will let those students and others explore career fields and get a jump-start on higher education by acquiring college credits toward associate degrees or certificates – all while working on their high school diplomas.
 
Dania Freudenburg, Roncalli Catholic’s principal, said she noticed after arriving at the school last year that it had a “100 percent graduation rate and only an 85 percent continuing education rate.” 
 
Quinn Scahill, the school’s communications coordinator, said college preparatory classes weren’t working for everyone. And for some lower-income families, the Career Academy will be ideal because students can work toward a post-secondary associate degree or certificate at little or no cost, he said.
 
That’s partly because Freudenburg sought donors for the program, and after securing a generous donation it was launched. Coincidentally, the community college’s side of the program is run by a graduate of Roncalli Catholic, the principal said.
 
“Students actually fill out a college application to Metro by March 15 to be accepted into the program,” Freudenburg said. “The only drawback to this program that I have heard is that some of the seniors are reluctant to leave their classmates for two to three hours in the afternoon.”
 
All eight students – one sophomore and seven juniors – who applied this year were accepted. Funding will be divided by the number of students in the program, up to full tuition paid. If a student in the Career Academy needs a few more semesters after graduating from Roncalli Catholic, Metro Community College will offer a 50 percent reduction in tuition costs.
 
Each afternoon beginning this fall, Adams said, he will go to the Metro campus to study criminal justice. Junior C.J. Harding also plans to study criminal justice.  
 
Both students said they hope to enter the police academy after obtaining their associate degrees, start out as police officers and move up the criminal justice ladder to detective or crime scene investigator.
 
Tide Nyenga, also a junior, will study auto mechanics, and expects to have nearly completed his associate degree by the time he graduates from Roncalli Catholic.
 
“One of the requirements to apply (for the Career Academy at Roncalli) is that you have to be on course to graduate high school (and have a 2.0 GPA),” Nyenga said.
 
To participate in the academy, students must be juniors or seniors, age 16 or older, and have their own transportation to and from classes.
 
Students can choose from 22 tracks featuring careers in high demand areas such as nursing, welding, information technology and auto mechanics. Metro Community College’s experience running similar programs in public high schools indicates a nearly 100 percent employment rate after graduation.
 

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