EMCC student Kelsey Hearn earns college degree before high school graduation

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Kelsey Hearn, left, is pictured with PACES Project Coordinator Bernard “Joe” Hulin during her May 4 graduation from East Mississippi Community College. Hearn will graduate from Kemper County High School May 24.

DEKALB — Kelsey Hearn, 18, graduated from East Mississippi Community College May 4, prior to receiving her high school diploma.

Hearn, a lifelong resident of DeKalb, will graduate from Kemper County High School May 24. Hearn said she was nervous during the commencement ceremony on EMCC’s Scooba campus.

“All the other kids were like, ‘It will be just like high school graduation. We are going to walk up there, get our diploma and it will be a big weight off our shoulders,’” Hearn said. “I had never graduated before so it was a little different for me.”

Hearn, who wants to become a doctor and specialize in dermatology, said she enrolled at EMCC during her junior year at KCHS. The plan was to take a couple of classes to see how it worked out.

“After I realized I could handle the extra work, I bumped it up and started taking more classes,” she said.

EMCC and KCHS have a memorandum of understanding that allows students to dual enroll at both institutions.

Hearn’s mother, Totsseta Hearn, said she first heard about dual enrollment from a friend.

“Kelsey and I started doing some research and we went to talk to some folks at EMCC and they had everything mapped out,” Totsseta Hearn said.

Kelsey Hearn has been busy both inside and outside the classroom. This spring, Kelsey became a member of Phi Theta Kappa International Honor Society at EMCC. At KCHS, she was president of the Student Government Association and a member of the Health Occupation Vocational Students of America (HOSA).  A student-athlete who played volleyball for the school, she was also a member of the PACES (Parents & Community Equals Educational Success) Project.

Additionally, Kelsey was named valedictorian of the graduating class of 2019 at KCHS.           

A cornerstone of PACES, a Kemper County Economic Development Authority project that seeks to raise educational achievement, is volunteerism. Student members help with community events, such as Stuff the Bus, Kemper County Chamber of Commerce dinners and the annual DeKalb Spring Fling. Members also volunteer at senior citizen homes, childcare agencies and the Dolly Parton Imagination Library of Kemper County.

“Students don’t get to participate in any activities until they perform required amounts of community service,” PACES Project Coordinator Bernard “Joe” Hulin said. “Kelsey has about 85 hours of community service this year and was among PACES top four students based on the number of volunteer hours.”

Kelsey Hearn said maintaining the workload hasn’t always been easy.

“I had to learn not to procrastinate when it came to homework,” she said. “I found out that waiting until Sunday night to get caught up wasn’t going to work. I had to do my homework as soon as I could get to it.”

EMCC Associate Dean of Instruction James Rush said the college offered six dual-enrollment classes at KCHS this past year. Those courses were paid for by the Kemper County School District and were taught either by EMCC faculty or KCHS faculty who are qualified to teach at the collegiate level, Rush said.

Students, or their parents, assume financial responsibility for classes they take at EMCC.

“Within the past two years, dual enrollment at Kemper County High School has gone up exponentially,” Rush said. “We attribute that to the partnership between Kemper County High School and East Mississippi Community College.”

Kemper County High School Principal Kathi Wilson said 81 students at the school are taking dual enrollment/dual credit classes offered by EMCC and that between 12 and 15 of the graduating high school seniors are on track to participate in EMCC’s commencement ceremony in December.

She credits the success of the program to Rush and the creation of the EMCC Lion Academy in which students at the high school who don’t meet math and English benchmarks can take intermediate classes at the college over the summer.

“They are fully immersed in the college life and in the fall they are ready for the dual credit, dual enrollment courses,” Wilson said.

Rush credits much of the success of the dual enrollment program to Wilson’s commitment to providing opportunities for students at KCHS. Rush said he knew it would only be a matter of time before a student would accept the challenge of graduating with an associate’s degree and high school diploma during their senior year.

It wasn’t until the end of last summer that Rush realized that student would be Hearn.

“Kelsey, along with her mother, high school counselor Jonetta Slaughter and I worked meticulously to plan her schedule for fall 2018 and spring 2019 at EMCC, along with her courses at KCHS in a manner that would not overwhelm her,” Rush said.  “I also think it is important to recognize Kelsey’s parents. Because of their support, Kelsey was successful in accomplishing this goal. Because of Kelsey’s preparation and dedication, I am confident she will reach her future goals sooner than she could have imagined.”

Similar agreements are in place at other high schools in EMCC’s district where dual enrollment/dual credit classes are offered on an as-needed basis.

“Dual credit/ enrollment is growing throughout the state,” Rush said. “In order to meet this need in our area, we first start by strengthening partnerships with schools in our district then trying to identify faculty at the high school who are qualified to teach on the college level.”

Kelsey Hearn plans to attend Jackson State University where she will major in biology. She is not yet sure where she would like to attend medical school.

“I know that wherever I go I want to be able to give back to Kemper County,” Kelsey Hearn said. “I want to let other kids see they can do whatever they want to do if they are willing to work for it. They don’t need anybody else’s validation.”

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