Why Become a “Collegiate” School?

Author: Regan Clement, Engagement Specialist, Hamlin Collegiate ISD

If you have spent any time in a small town, you have witnessed firsthand the challenge: rural areas struggle to keep families from moving away in search of economic opportunities. When a large business closes in a city, it is quickly replaced. In a small town, however, it is a devastating blow to the economy and to all of those who rely on it for employment. As the employer closes, so go the families who inhabit the town, work other jobs, attend the school, and give back to the community. This has been especially true for those living in Hamlin, Texas.

For the past decade in Hamlin, alumni return for Homecoming and mourn the dwindling city and ever-declining school enrollment numbers. Though the town has a rich history and a deeply-rooted sense of pride amongst its citizens, many of the remaining students in Hamlin walk to school from impoverished living conditions, and locals can tell you which students come from generations of poverty. For the students who have only seen economic hardship, the future was looking very bleak. Statewide, only 18% of high school graduates finish college in six years or less, and that number is even lower in rural areas. How could this local school provide these students with anything to help break free from this cycle of generational need? A high school diploma doesn’t get much employment for an 18 year old these days— especially one who does not own a car.

Enter the Collegiate Model of Education.

Hamlin’s school board could see the situation for what it was. They knew something had to change to preserve their beloved town. The school and community wanted to help their young people build authentic résumés to land well-paying, secure jobs. More than that, they had a deep desire for the students to be critical thinking, well-spoken adults with real work experience. They wanted Hamlin graduates to be educated, experienced, and hirable. In 2019, they made a bold choice to embrace a new model of education with their new superintendent, Dr. Randy Burks. They began to work together to start the transformation process, focusing on breaking through some of the biggest obstacles for rural students — affordable college education and industry certifications.

What does this look like?
  • Earning an associate degree while simultaneously earning a high school diploma
  • Choosing electives which give work experience and industry certifications (drone, welding, HVAC, business management, cyber security, pharmacy tech, and CNA)
  • Filling in the gaps with AVID courses which host mock-interviews, résumé building, higher education options, and other job and interviewing skills
  • Conducting research yearly to practice critical thinking, data collection, and public speaking
  • Connecting to the world’s opportunities and honing technology skills with the school-provided personal MacBook
It has not been an easy journey, but here a few of the successes so far:
  • Enrollment is up 50 students
  • Students are earning work experience and industry certifications
  • Teacher recruitment has been extremely difficult for years, but now there are well-qualified teachers and coaches seeking Hamlin for employment
  • Hamlin Collegiate has become a ‘district of choice’ for students and staff around the area
  • Overall improved image and culture of Grit, Aspiration, and Hope permeating the school and community
  • An Education Foundation was created in 2020 due to the financial support of the community, alumni, and local businesses
  • Overall increased funding from federal programs, grants, and donors
  • Students are already earning college hours, and many of this year’s 10th graders will graduate with 60 hours (an associate degree)

Hope is on the rise in Hamlin, Texas. Even at this early stage, the benefits are proving worth the effort.

Embracing such a significant change in a quiet community is a complex endeavor.

Visit www.hamlincollegiate.com/why for more information about why this rural school made the leap.

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