Alief Early College High School Offers Smooth Transition from High School to University | WESTCHASE DISTRICT

Open since 2011, Alief Early College High School, located within its own building on the Houston Community College campus, has paved the way for thousands of students to move on to college and career success. “We serve the typical Alief student,” said Principal Dr. Brandi Brotherton,” but we provide a little different experience for our students.”

Starting with competition. The students must apply to AECHS. Between 300 and 500 students apply each year for one of 110 spots. Students are selected by a lottery, which targets prospective first-generation college students and other typically under-represented populations in higher education.

Another is support. Three school counselors work with the approximately 400 students, not only on their academic courses, but also supporting their social and emotional learning. Each student is part of the school’s AVID program (Advancement via Individual Determination.) While AVID programs at available at other Alief schools, they are often limited to a certain number of students. At AECHS, the program is offered to all students. “They receive training in time management, collaboration and other 21st century soft skills that help them succeed in high school and beyond,” said Brotherton. “We build and foster a culture of expectation for students and staff here.”

Dual-credit learning

Students’ first two years are spent taking the standard high school classes. “Once they finish their sophomore year, they’re taking all their classes at HCC and the West Houston Institute,” said Brotherton. “They have classes with adult students, taught by college professors. They’re treated like college students and are immersed in the college experience.” The classes are offered free of charge as long as they’re attending AECHS.

HCC’s Northwest College President Dr. Zachary Hodges says the students of AECHS are “rock stars” when they graduate. “I give a lot of tours of the campus,” he noted. “Anytime I introduce a campus guest to a student of the Early College High School, they’re so impressed. You can ask any student about their aspirations and they speak so intelligently and are focused on their next steps.”

In the most recent graduating class, 79 of 101 students (78%) earned their associate degree at the same time they collected their high school diploma. According to Brotherton, most will go on to pursue a bachelor’s degree in college. That high rate of dual degrees (and other Outcome Based Measures determined by the Texas Education Agency), has earned AECHS a “designated” (versus “provisional”) rating and the school is well on its way to receiving the “distinguished” rating.

Work-study experience

Many students leave campus at midday to work an off-campus job several days a week. Employers come to campus to recruit them directly or students apply for existing jobs through the Genesys Works program. “The students have to apply for these internships and compete against other job seekers. If their interview leads to a job offer, they become part of the paid staff of that business. It’s an opportunity for students to explore their passions and chart their own path,” said Brotherton.

It can also be a challenge, said Brotherton, earning college credits, while working part-time and enjoying the high school experience. “That’s when they lean into their AVID skills – time management and focus. They’re learning to be young adults. And we teach them they can do anything if they approach it with intention.”


A different experience

Yellow school buses line up at the HCC campus twice a day taking AECHS students to and from school. It’s a daily reminder that high school students – 14- to 18-year-olds – are enjoying their high school experience, despite the demands of dual-credit learning and work-study jobs.

Their high school experience includes elections for Prom King & Queen, Homecoming, pep rallies, a mascot (the Fearless Knights) and elections for Executive Leadership Council (i.e. Student Council). They opt in for clubs and organizations – ranging from speech & debate to robotics to photography and art.

The students are actively involved in projects at the HCC Maker Space and the West Houston Institute. “This is a good example of a program that really works,” said Hodges. “Early College High School is the number one innovation in public education. These are great kids and many of them are going to add value to our community when they return to Alief and West Houston to pursue their careers and livelihoods.”