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By Heather McGregor

LEADVILLE – When she was a Lake County High School freshman, Bianca Gonzales took her first college-level academic class. Two years later, as the Leadville teen finishes her junior year of high school, she has completed an associate degree from Colorado Mountain College.

“For my family and for me, this is a big achievement,” Gonzales said. “My parents only got their high school education, and they have always encouraged me to further my education. It’s like me taking on their dreams and my dreams too.”

Photo of Bianca Gonzales

CMC graduate Bianca Gonzales, right, is congratulated by Rachel Pokrandt,  Leadville and Chaffee County dean at commencement on May 4. Photo Andy Colwell

Gonzales achieved this academic head start through the concurrent enrollment program offered by the college.

High school students can take college-level academic classes at their school, at the local CMC campus, or through CMC’s online classes. Tuition for the CMC classes is paid for by the local school district.

Gonzales’s first college-level class, taken in the spring of her freshman year of high school, was U.S. history.

“It was challenging at first, because it was an online class. But I got into my routine with it, and it worked out well,” she recalled. She finished the class with an A.

In her sophomore and junior years, she took three to four college classes per semester, plus a couple over the summer, covering the academic subjects that college students typically study during their freshman and sophomore years.

Direct path to jobs, too

Colorado Mountain College’s concurrent enrollment also offers career-oriented technical classes, so high school students can earn certifications that lead directly to jobs. In Leadville, students can take welding or basic culinary skills.

This fall, CMC Leadville will also offer basic electrical certification, said Kristen Voegtle, CMC’s concurrent enrollment coordinator. A dozen students are already lining up to enroll.

About one-third of the students enrolled at Lake County High School are taking CMC academic and technical classes, said Voegtle. Of the school’s 291 students, 89 took concurrent enrollment classes during the 2017-18 academic year.

Of this year’s 64 graduating seniors, five are graduating with an associate degree from CMC, and nine have completed technical certificates.

Summer in the city

While Bianca Gonzales could graduate this year too, she plans to wait until 2019 to graduate with her class. Meanwhile, she will spend the fall semester at The Masters School in New York City, enrolled in the City Term program.

For a teen born and raised in Leadville, spending four months in New York is a special opportunity.

“I want to meet new people, and I am excited to get familiarized with the city, and to take classes that are integrated with the city,” Gonzales said.

Beyond the coming year, she hopes to earn a bachelor’s degree at an Ivy League university and go to law school.

In the meantime, Gonzales is mentoring freshmen at her school through Link Crew, along with participating in Student Council, competing in track and serving as vice president of FBLA.

She wants to be sure the students following her understand the opportunity of CMC’s concurrent enrollment program.

“When I started, a lot of people weren’t familiar with it,” Gonzales said. “Now a lot of people are, and that’s really cool.”