Students earn high school diploma, associate’s degree in 5-year program
By SUE SUCHYTA
DEARBORN – Spending five years in high school pays off for students of Henry Ford Early College, who earn a tuition-free associate’s degree and jump-start their careers upon completion of the program.
HFEC, housed at Henry Ford College’s main campus, 5101 Evergreen, works in partnership with Dearborn Public Schools, HFC and the Henry Ford Health System to enable students to earn their high school diploma and an associate’s degree in a health-care related field, or up to two years of transferable college credits, at no cost.
Fifty students are chosen for each incoming class by lottery, with half from Dearborn, and the balance from the rest of Wayne County.
Students represent 24 Wayne County school districts, and there are more applications than the 50 openings available each year, Prinicipal Majed Fadlallah said.
A new program was launched in the fall, with 48 students beginning an early college program focused on advanced manufacturing.
Dearborn students are bused from their home high school, while other students must provide their own transportation to campus.
The program is designed to help students who are smart but who might not reach their potential in a traditional high school environment, as well as help minority students, first generation college attendees and those from a low-socioeconomic background.
The program gives a strong start to students who might otherwise lack the economic and academic support to begin college after a traditional high school experience.
HFEC students learn about health-care careers through cooperative rotations at Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit while in ninth and 10th grade, with clinical intensive job shadowing the second year.
Fadlallah said the state ranks schools yearly based on how students perform on standardized tests, and HFEC has consistently ranked in the 99th percentile.
“The big thing we talk about in education is the achievement gap between the top and bottom students,” Fadlallah said. “Our objective is to always close that gap. We don’t have an achievement gap here. All of our students do very well.”
Begun in 2007, HFEC has been housed on the HFC campus for the past two years.
Fadlallah said being on a college campus is beneficial for the students, who become acclimated to the environment as ninth-graders.
“They mature much faster,” he said. “They take it more seriously.”
Fadlallah said HFEC has a great staff.
“We build a relationship with our kids from day one,” he said. “They know we are here for them, and for their success.”
Every Wednesday, ninth and 10th-grade students are bused to Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit, where they spend the day doing clinical rotations and science labs.
In 11th grade, students spend half the day in high school classes and half in college classes, and in their 12th and 13th years they are in a full-time college program.
While students may participate in sports and clubs at their home high school, by the time they start taking college level courses it becomes difficult to balance extracurricular activities with afternoon college class schedules.
Tutoring is available every day after school from teachers and upperclassmen National Honor Society students, and Fadlallah said he encourages families to provide a supportive home environment with a quiet study space.
Fadlallah said after five years, graduates can enter the workforce, transfer to four-year colleges, or do both.
“We specialize in the health careers,” he said. “There is demand for this work. Our students are able to get a job.”
Shelby Houston, 15, of Westland, said she always wanted to work in the medical field, and HFEC will help her do that.
“This is a school that is going to help me get ahead,” Houston said. “There are always going to be people (needing medical) help.”
Madison Pierceall, 15, of Dearborn, watched her older brother go through the program.
“There is always going to be a need for nurses,” Pierceall said. “This program really helps me get ahead.”
Pierceall said that while she misses things like proms, HFEC is helping her reach her goals.
“When I do clinical (rotations) and I see how much people actually need us, it actually motivates me,” she said.
Holly Pizzini, 15, of Brownstown Township, who plans to become a doctor, said the 45-minute drive to get to HFEC is worth it to further her education.
“You have to be very committed, and you have to know the difference between when to buckle down and do your work, and when there’s a time for fun and games,” Pizzini said. “It’s definitely strict, and we have to study, because you never know when there’s a pop quiz.”
Kiana Mussel, 16, of Westland, said the appeal of HFEC for her is to be able to learn a job in the medical field and get on with her life.
She said while the program is tough, if students focus on their goals and use self-discipline, they will do fine.
Mussel said the clinical rotations were not only fascinating, but helped her focus on the end goal when her school work caused her stress.
“Seeing where you are going to go and what’s going to happen at the end of this really helps you to move forward,” Mussel said.
“It’s a lot of hard work, but it’s definitely going to pay off in the long run,” Houston said. “Hard work equals success.”
Laura Smykowski of Brownstown Township, who teaches physics, and anatomy and physiology at HFEC, likes the small class size because she is able to build relationships with the students and work with them for two years in a row. She said the one-on-one tutoring after school helps a lot as well.
Students also get science lab experience both on campus and during their clinical rotations.
Mark Rummel of Dearborn, who teaches history and language arts, said he tries to explore the health and science aspects with students, like looking more closely at the Black Plague in his world history class.
“Traditionally we wouldn’t go into some of the nitty-gritty as to the parasites and all kinds of bacteria and where it came from, but I found that our students here really get into that,” Rummel said. “The symptoms, the strains of plague.”
He said the close-knit staff collaborate to connect their curriculum, and the small student body gives teachers an opportunity to get to know their students and deal with potential problems sooner.
“They are not going to slip through the cracks here,” Rummel said. “We’re expecting a lot of our students. It’s very rigorous, but we’ve got a lot of support in place.”