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HCC graduate proud to finish high school with an associate degree through CollegeNow

By Jane Lethlean

Highland Community College

As she started high school, Clara Bartels was already pondering becoming a teacher herself. In her junior year, she started the CollegeNow program at Highland Community College to take college credit courses for the last two years of high school and graduate with an Associate of Arts degree from Highland and her high school diploma from Freeport High School at the same time.

“I was looking for a challenge, and it was an opportunity that was available to me to begin my college career two years early,” Bartels said.

CollegeNow at Highland Community College allows high school students to enroll as full-time students and earn dual credit toward an associate’s degree while finishing high school.

Bartels had to go through a comprehensive testing process to qualify for the program. Passing these gave her the confidence that as a high school student, she was up to the challenge, and as she looks forward to Commencement at Highland on May 18, she will have her associate degree in hand — one day before receiving her high school diploma at Freeport’s graduation the next day.

“Through the whole process, I looked at classes that I needed, and while I knew they would be harder, I had the encouragement I needed to go forward,” she added.

Bartels’ future plans are to attend the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point to earn a Bachelor’s degree in Family and Consumer Science. She hopes to help others by serving as a life skills teacher.

“I feel a lot of people at high school don’t get CollegeNow,” she said. “I want to show them an associate’s degree is a great way to get ahead, challenge yourself and make new connections,” Bartels said. “My first day at college was a bit intimidating, and I had to find my way. It was nice to have staff guide me in the right direction, and then I just settled in.”

Bartels balanced enjoying both college life and her high school experience, scheduling her classes around her extracurricular life. She became active with the Student Senate and was a cheerleader for the Highland Cougars, also participating in the Intervarsity Club. She is a National Honor Society student at Freeport High School and a Phi Theta Kappa Honor Society member through Highland.

Bartels said she is happy to receive her college degree one day ahead of her high school diploma. She wants to show her high school peers the possibilities to get ahead of a college degree.

“Two degrees means a lot,” she said. “I worked hard for it. I would say that I was prepared more than I thought. I struggled, but I had help from people on campus who went above and beyond.”

Photo: Clara Bartels shows off her cap, gown, and tassel as she smiles thinking ahead to graduation from the Highland Community College in Freeport. {Photo provided by Highland Community College.}