Avondale Elementary School District’s middle school students are continuing to find success with its fast-track high school program.

Within the fast-track program, students participate in high school courses in algebra, band, chorus and Spanish at the feeder school district, Agua Fria Union High School District. The participating facilities are Agua Fria and Desert Edge high schools. 

The program was implemented 12 years ago and continues to grow each school year. 

“By bringing all of our kids who are eligible over to the high school, we’re able to maximize that learning opportunity for them,” said Dr. Betsy Hargrove, Avondale Elementary School District superintendent. 

“It was about ensuring that our kids have every opportunity for that experience in their educational programming and children that were ready for those higher-level coursework, as well as enrichment courses, get those credits out of the way and start high school already ahead.”

Participating students are transported to the feeder high school up to four days a week.

While the goal is to have the middle school students receive high school credits before their freshman year, Hargrove said the increased confidence is a bonus.  

“When they participate in this program and then become high school freshmen, they already know the campus, they know staff members at the high school, they know the lay of the land, they know what the expectations are, and they really do step in ahead of the curve,” she said. 

Hargrove said the feeder schools’ teachers and staff are enthusiastic about the young students who have the high school experience. 

“I definitely know that the administrators and the staff there at the high school readily recognize our kids,” she said. 

“We have never heard anything but accolades of how amazing they are and how talented they are. Whether we’re talking math or we’re talking about children attending from our dual language immersion program, we also have our children attending choir and band at the high school to be able to just have those opportunities that are more than necessarily what we can offer at an elementary school.”

The program has grown since a former superintendent introduced it more than a decade ago. It offers an increasing number of classes as well as enrichment opportunities, like band and choir. 

Desert Edge choir director, Amy Lowe, said having middle school students interacting and learning with her high school students has brought a whole new joy to her classroom. 

“I absolutely love having them here,” she said. “The partnership itself is amazing. These kids have a whole variety of interest in music and it’s a great opportunity to build and develop that knowledge before they even enter their freshman year of high school.” 

Amelia Nicholson, eighth grader at Desert Star who takes classes at Desert Edge High School, said her math skills have improved thanks to the fast-track program. 

“The teacher, Mr. Flores, doesn’t teach the lessons too fast or too slow,” Nicholson said.  “This allows me to better comprehend the material and also help others if they are struggling. I’m excited to show my parents my grades because I’ve been able to maintain A’s and B’s with the challenging work.”

While she admits feeling overwhelmed at first, Nicholson said the fast-track program has been beneficial for her as a middle schooler and sets her up for success in high school. 

“There are many benefits of going to high school and being able to see how it works, such as the campus layout and the classrooms and transitions between periods,” she said. “My favorite part about taking this class is that I get to meet new people, learn new content and also get challenged mathematically.”

Hargrove said she’s looking forward to integrating athletics. 

“We’ve been able to build it and grow it and have never looked back,” she said. “It’s something that we’re actually leaning forward in and we’re talking about adding some athletic pieces with the high school athletes, also working with one of our sites for CTE and career exploration at the middle school and working with high school instructors.”

To participate in the fast-track program for algebra courses, students must show the ability to achieve at a higher level. However, for the enrichment classes, students can join regardless of their musical abilities. 

“We wouldn’t want to have one factor preclude them from participating, so it really is a holistic look at it,” Hargrove said. 

“As far as choir and band, I think one of the best pieces about those two things is the fact that they may never have been in choir before but if they’re interested in it, they can go over and take part of this experience where they’re being instructed by the high school teacher. It kind of elevates the experience.”

Hargrove said the youngsters learning from high schoolers is exciting. 

“They even work with our kids after school, when they don’t have to be there,” she said.

“They’ll work with them and help them to be able to have those experiences. And we’ve actually had our kids participate in the high school events outward facing the community, which is unbelievable.”

Hargrove said the program wouldn’t be possible without the quality of students. 

“I truly believe that what we do in Avondale is about having them envision themselves in the future,” she said. 

“It’s just a whole system that feeds itself because it just gets better and better as we go forward and we grow it and provide more and more opportunities, but we couldn’t do it without such an amazing relationship with the high school and groups of children who see themselves in the future not just in the moment but in the future and want to be able to have those experiences.”