For seniors, what could be better than finishing high school after 13 years?
Graduated from high school and community college with an associate degree at the same time.
That was the reality for six Southeast Kansas students this month who were attending high school and Labette Community College at the same time, including Annaka Otto, Ashlynn Smith and Isabelle Fuentez.
“I think it’s just a great option if you’re done with everything. I just see why to sit around and do nothing when I have the option to work ahead and finish college,” said Otto, who recently graduated from Chetopa High School and LCC: “I was always driven to do more than what I was learning. I’ve always been considered too smart for my own good, I’ve often been told. Using that for something I was going to be able to pursue and do something I love was strong willpower for me and gave me the confidence to even be able to focus on college as a high school student.
Otto said that growing up, college wasn’t really seen as an option. High school changed that.
“At my old high school (in Moses Lake, Washington), we had this thing called Running Start, and if you finished all your high school credits, you could go to college two years early and they paid for it with community college. they had. When I was transferred here, I was still going towards this and it was still being credited here. That’s what convinced me to do this,” Otto said.
Staying with her family in Chetopa and being away from her mother hasn’t slowed her down.
Otto’s goal is to become a lawyer, and that requires a lot of college education, so knocking out as many colleges as possible while he’s still in high school gets him to that goal faster.
“Doing two years and only having five is my main goal,” she said.
Otto’s decision to focus on law came from a passion for speaking and debating.
Otto transfers to Pittsburg State University to earn a bachelor’s and master’s degree in political science with a major in pre-law. She will then transfer to the University of Arkansas to continue her studies in law.
“It’s a relief,” Otto said of his goal.
In high school, Otto served as school president and class president of the senior class. She also participated in basketball and was a cheerleader.
“And I got into softball but I realized that wasn’t what I liked. I wanted to focus more on becoming an adult and focus on college and contributing to the world.
“My mother is still there. I called her every day,” Otto said. “I love my mom. She’s always there for me. She was the one who helped me choose what I wanted to do and she was always supportive of me. Criminal Justice was my original major and then at fourth semester some courses weren’t offered so I changed it to psychology because I want to major in law and minor in psychology and it sort of goes together.
What’s interesting is that his mother is finishing her master’s degree in social work at the same time.
“So we do it together, even though she’s obviously more advanced than me,” Otto said.
Otto said she plans to stay in the area for now after starting her career.
Smith, who graduated this month from Labette County High School, also earned an LCC psychology degree magna cum laude.
“I always wanted to go to college, and I knew that at our school we could take college classes, so after second year, in the summer before first year, that’s when that you can start. I was like, ‘Might as well get a head start since it’s cheaper.’ And then I continued to take classes.
At first, she pursued biology studies until she took a biology course and switched to psychology.
“I passed with an A, but it wasn’t for me,” she said.
As she started to look at her senior year, she realized that she only had electives in high school and was about to graduate from college, so she decided to sneak in. in the university degree.
She slowed down her involvement in high school activities and leaned into college classes, and she’s glad she did.
She was approved for the Hagan Scholarship, which pays up to $48,000 of her tuition. Smith wants to go to Kansas State University to get a bachelor’s degree in psychology and then a master’s degree with a focus on forensics.
“I’ve always enjoyed taking classes. It was interesting, and I like shows like “Criminal Minds” and “Law & Order Special Victims Unit.” I always loved the psychologists they would have there and hearing why they did what they did and their thinking behind it,” she said. “I think I want to do more on the criminal justice side.”
From there, she does not know where she is going. Somewhere near the ocean is appealing, but if she finds herself near home, she’s okay with that.
Smith said that none of her family on her mother’s side had gone to college, so her mother was excited for her and supportive.
Fuentez graduated summa cum laude from LCC and was a salutatorian in Parsons High School’s class of 2022.
Fuentez played volleyball the last four years of high school and softball for three years. She was vice president of the Key Club, president of the Spanish Club, and a member of the National Honor Society.
Despite everything she had in high school, she also decided to pursue her studies in college.
“My parents kind of influenced me to do it. I want a career in the medical field and I’m going to graduate school after college, so I wanted a head start. It’s just that I’m an overachiever pretty much,” she said.
She said she was looking to become a doctor of physical therapy.
“I tore my ACL last spring and spent a lot of time with physical therapists, and I want to continue that,” she said. “They made me feel like I could do anything because I was a hard worker and could achieve anything I wanted.”
She took most courses online, but took concurrent courses such as speech, psychology, trigonometry, college algebra, and composition in English.
She only had two high school classes this year, Spanish II and Physics.
“I was enrolled as a full-time student for my entire senior year,” she said.
She’ll be attending Wichita State University in the fall, so she won’t be too far from her family.
Thinking about her accomplishments, she said she felt a sense of relief, especially after feeling overwhelmed last semester. In addition to morning therapy, she put in 15 hours of college and had her high school classes and finals.
“It was a lot,” she said.
“I feel like I’m on a downward slope now. I feel nervous but I’m also excited. Just a lot of emotions,” Fuentez said. “I’m really proud of myself, like I did something that most people in high school don’t get to do, and I’m so grateful to the people I had by my side. “