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Robstown HS student makes history with college associates degree before high school diploma

Posted at 12:52 PM, Dec 06, 2018
and last updated 2018-12-06 19:19:49-05

After a lot of hard work, a ton of dedication and many sleepless nights, a student at Robstown Early College High School is making history.

In one week, 17-year-old AJ Barrera will walk across the big stage.

But it’s not for his high school diploma, which comes in May. Next week, he gets his associates degree in science and liberal arts from Del Mar College.

“It’s pretty crazy,” Barrera said. “I’ve been working for it for a long time, but now that the day is coming, it still doesn’t feel real.”

AJ began preparing for his degree as a student in junior high. That’s where he took pre-AP classes — classes that prepare students for college level classes. It was something no one at his school had ever done.

“It was really tough,” Barrera said. “It was scary. I was 14 years old. I was a kid.”

But AJ was up for the challenge.

“For the longest time, I’ve always tried to push myself to be the best in everything I do,” Barrera said.

AJ continued working towards his degree in high school. Beginning his freshman year, he took dual-credit classes through the Robstown Early College High School dual-credit program at Del Mar College.

Some of his classes were taught by Ms. Elisa Deffendall, a math teacher at Robstown Early College High School.

“He is always making sure he gets all of his work done,” Deffendall said. “He’s working super hard to do the best that he can.”

The school’s dual-credit program gives students like AJ a head start in their college career.

“Now I’m going to be a step ahead of everybody else,” Barrera said. “Because now I have an advantage going into my future years.”

Because of his hard work, AJ will be the first student from Robstown Early College High School and the community to graduate with his associate’s degree before he gets his high school diploma.

“I’m not going to lie, it was really tough but I overcame all the obstacles in my way, made a lot of sacrifices but it was definitely worth it,”​ he said.

Now AJ has his eyes set on the future. He wants to attend Texas A&M University at College Station, where he will major in chemical engineering.

AJ will receive his associates degree at a graduation ceremony next week happening at the American Bank Center.

The move was a financially prudent one, as AJ saved nearly $48,000 in college tuition by taking dual-credit classes.