Ashley Barnes, the Class of 2014 Salutatorian at DeKalb County High School, took part in her college graduation ceremony almost two weeks ago at Motlow State Community College and Friday she will be celebrating another educational milestone — high school graduation. While the numbers of students participating in dual enrollment has grown in recent years, a means for high school students to transition into college, Barnes is the only student in the history of the school at DCHS to ever have earned a college degree while completing high school credits.
"This has always been my dream. This has always been my goal," said Barnes in an interview with WJLE Monday.
Through dual enrollment, high school students may take one or more college courses for which they will receive both high school and college credits. On Saturday, May 10, Barnes graduated from Motlow with an Associate's Degree in General Studies. " I graduated from Motlow State Community College with an Associate's degree two weeks before my high school graduation (May 23). I am pretty excited about that. I began taking college credit courses when I was fourteen years old and that hard work has paid off. The summer after my freshman year, I just started taking a few classes here and there, doing that for four years. They have all added up. I have sixty three college credit hours. Most of the classes were on-line through Motlow but I did take a few classes through Tennessee Tech and commuted back and forth from Cookeville and the high school. It was dual enrollment, so it counted for high school credit as well," said Barnes.
DCHS Principal Patrick Cripps told WJLE Monday that he is very proud of Barnes and what she has accomplished through this program. "She exemplifies it. She is hard working. I tell my staff, effort. Give me everything you've got that day. Every day is not going to be 100% but Ashley brings it every day. She brings effort. She is a great student. She is what we want representing DeKalb County in these classes. You don't have to worry about her giving up. She is going to keep fighting through. She has taken courses at Tennessee Tech this past semester, chemistry and higher level chemistry that a lot of people would get to and shy away and maybe change their major or go home. But she hasn't done that. She has put her nose to the grindstone and has kept pushing forward," said Principal Cripps.
"What she has been able to achieve is amazing," added Director of Schools Mark Willougby in speaking with WJLE. "She is wonderful. She is intelligent. But she is also hard working. She is determined. She is a role model for all students as well as adults. To accomplish what she has, comes from inside and self determination and having a goal and seeing that through. She could have taken the easy way out but from hearing her speak, you can tell the maturity that she has. She chose to stick to it. A friend of mine, the late Edsel Floyd called it "stickability". Ashley has "stickability"," said Director Willoughby.
Since its beginnings more than a decade ago, DCHS has seen steady growth in the dual enrollment program.. "Ms Helen Lee (former guidance counselor) brought it in probably around 2001 or 2002. We started out with two English courses. That started out with twelve to fifteen students in those classes and we've seen our program grow. Students have the opportunity to gain college credit in over thirty different classes now here at the high school. Our numbers as far as students taking those classes have grown as each year has gone by. In 2011-12 we had 124 students. In 2012-13 we had 190 students and this year we had 196 students taking dual enrollment classes," said Principal Cripps.
Most of the students in the program at DCHS earn their dual credits through Motlow State Community College. "We generally go through Motlow", explained Principal Cripps. They have worked really well with us. To pat DeKalb County on the back, they (Motlow) call us their model school. We've also had some students to go through Chattanooga State and maybe Vol State Community College. We're proud of all the hard work that our students do, because they are the backbone of our school, but we're also proud of the work that Ms Lori Myrick, Ms.Shelly Painter, Ms Kenderly Cripps, Ms Jamie Wright, and Ms Rhonda and all those folks do to get our students in those classes to succeed," he said.
While Barnes has no regrets for pursuing the dual enrollment path, she did have to sacrifice her high school basketball play for most of this past season in order to accomplish her academic goals. " I played basketball until December of my senior year. It came down to the deciding point, do I want to continue to play basketball and theoretically miss this goal by two classes or do I want to give up a sport that I have played for seventeen years and go ahead and take a few more classes and actually achieve this goal, this dream of graduating college before high school?. I love basketball. I love the girls. They are all great. But I had to look at it from this standpoint. In twenty years, when I look back, what is going to help me the most?. Was it going to be academically or sports? From my prospective, that semester of school was more important than a few more weeks of basketball," said Barnes.
As a member of the Class of 2014, Barnes is among students in the "Top Academic Ranking" and she has earned the distinction of being the Class Salutatorian with a 4.0 grade point average. Beginning with the Class of 2014, students must have completed more challenging honors and advanced placement courses in order to be eligible for Valedictorian, Salutatorian, and the top academic ranking. Barnes said she favors the changes. " I like the weighted GPA now. They changed it with our class. It's a lot more beneficial. Granted, it is a lot more difficult but it is rewarding to take the higher level classes and be rewarded for that," Barnes said.
Now that her high school days are almost over, Barnes said she plans to further her education at Harding University in Searcy, Arkansas. "My Associate's (degree) is in general studies. I took the core classes. I didn't really focus on anything. But when I am technically living on campus, I will be double majoring in Biochemistry and Leadership in Bible at Harding University. I hope to get my Bachelor of Science and then I want to go to pharmacy school and become a clinical pharmacist," she said.
Having reached this important milestone in her life, Barnes encourages other students to do the same. "Anybody can do it. It just takes time and hard work. For anybody who is thinking about dual enrollment, do it. It's worth it. Push yourself. Take the hardest courses. Challenge yourself because it will be worth it in the end," Barnes concluded.
During Monday night's Senior Awards Program at DCHS, Barnes was awarded $62,500 in scholarships including $38,000 from Harding University; $20,000 from Tennessee Tech University; a $4,000 Brandon Elder Scholarship; and $500 from the Clyde Thomas Family Trust Scholarship.
Barnes is the daughter of David and Suzette Barnes of Smithville. Barnes' mother is a seventh grade science teacher at DeKalb Middle School. Ashley also has a ten year old brother who is a fifth grader at Northside Elementary School.