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El Capitan High Students Graduate High School And College At The Same Time

Hayley Moua and Daniela Belmonte


It was during her Freshman year on the varsity cheerleading squad at El Capitan High when Hayley Moua found out from her older teammates that students have the ability to take college classes while in high school. Three and half years later, Hayley will be receiving both her high school diploma and an AA in Social and Behavioral Science this spring.

Thanks to a partnership between Merced Union High School District (MUHSD) and Merced College, students enrolled at MUHSD have been able to fulfill high school requirements and earn college credit concurrently via the Dual Enrollment Program. The program provides an avenue for students looking to get a jump on the next step in their education, which in turn, can result in an early graduation from college and, ultimately, beginning a career sooner.

This scenario appeals to goal-oriented students like Hayley, who saw the Dual Enrollment Program as both a way to save money and to get a step ahead of the game while transitioning into a young adult.

“This program allows students to gain an upper hand on higher education and it gave me the opportunity to grow as a student and individual,” said Hayley. “The knowledge and experience it provided me will assist me in my future endeavors.”

Daniela Belmonte, also from El Capitan High, made the decision to participate in the Dual Enrollment Program at the end of her Freshman year while planning out the remainder of her high school career. Along with her high school diploma, Daniela has also earned associate degrees in Psychology, Sociology and Human Behavioral Science this spring as well as a certificate for her CSU general education.

Also a student-athlete, Daniela had to find a balance between school, sports, friends and homelife. Admittedly, it wasn’t easy but Daniela says any sacrifice was worth the feeling of accomplishment. There was also an unexpected journey of self-discovery along the way.

“Taking college classes during high school allows you to realize that it is possible to balance multiple things in your life while still being possible to get good grades, said Daniela. “It allows oneself to realize how much more they are capable of in all aspects of life.”

Students taking dual enrollment courses spend time onsite at Merced College and both Hayley and Daniela feel that the experience of being on a college campus prior to being enrolled at one is invaluable, especially for students who plan to further their education after high school.

“A large difference that I experienced between the two was the self discipline,” said Hayley. “The teachers in high school are much more involved with student lives and hold a more personal connection with them. In college, the teachers and students come to class, in agreement, that students are to hold their own throughout the class.”

Daniela adds that exposing oneself to higher learning while in high school can relieve some of the anxieties students may have about college life.

“College can be scary, stressful, and much more knowing that you’re fully responsible for your academics,'' said Daniela. “Taking college courses during high school prepares a student more for college by allowing them to become more confident and organized.”

Hayley plans to attend UC Davis in the fall where she will be majoring in Biological Science while chasing her dream of becoming a pediatrician. Daniela will remain local and attend UC Merced where she’ll pursue a Masters in Psychology. She isn’t sure what she wants to do after that, but is leaning toward a career as a high school counselor.

Both graduates are grateful for the existence of the Dual Enrollment Program and believe that anyone serious about their education should take advantage of it, even if they're not sure if they are “college material”.

“You own the right to determine your self-worth and it only takes one step to begin the journey of a thousand miles,” said Hayley. “Along the way you will find endless possibilities.”

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