Three weeks before ever walking the high school graduation stage, the first group of Red Oak Hawk Scholars received their associate’s degree from Navarro College.
When Mason Linex-Johnson took his first steps with his degree, he felt, “victory.”
“It was awesome,” Linex-Johnson exclaimed. “You wouldn’t believe how our families erupted. We definitely made our families proud.”
The Hawk Scholars program was established five years ago with the first round of students interviewed their eighth-grade year.
Rachel Jones, the executive director of secondary learning at Red Oak ISD, explained the program.
“Students complete an associate’s degree by high school graduation without having to go to an early college high school setting,” Jones elaborated. “It allows students to remain in a comprehensive high school setting with the opportunities and extracurricular that they would normally have available.”
Red Oak ISD exercises a partnership with both Navarro College and the University of Texas at Arlington. During the junior year, the Hawk Scholars meet with University of Texas at Arlington advisors to review elective selections and focus on plans for the degree that adequately suits the student.
The program proved to be more than an accelerated academic program. The students were able to rationalize mature relationships, figure out time management and get the most out of their education.
When Linex-Johnson applied and interviewed for his seat as one of the first Hawk Scholars his eighth-grade year, he saw the program as a challenge, and it proved to be just that. As the years went on, the difficulty of the courses increased as well as the workload. Classes became more demanding and rigger.
“My freshmen year it was pretty easy,” Linex-Johnson disclosed. “It’s difficult but manageable. Your sophomore year, you start to take really hard English classes and your junior year even harder English classes. Your senior year is probably the hardest — if you take biology — year I’ve taken.”
Only two-thirds of the cohort graduated as Hawk Scholars — a total of 17 students. Just a few students were not able to keep up with the challenging work while others moved away or were academically dishonest.
Linex-Johnson pointed out when he was a young Hawk the support system is already intact.
“The amazing thing about this program — probably my favorite thing — is even though you’re tackling college-level work, you’re getting to do it with your cohorts that are your friends, they are the people you’ve known since elementary school.”
Through the program, Linex-Johnson noticed the high school relationships matured and clicks dissolved. He recalled the first day of class and how the students segregated themselves into groups, but when that first test came around, everyone was at the same table. As time progressed, everyone realized they were all struggling with the same challenging course and needed to have each others’ backs studying.
“I what I really, really liked about this was that you meet all kinds of people and all their stories," he elaborated. "It teaches you to reach out to other people who are in the same predicament and problem as you. It opens your eyes to see how different people are but are really the same.”
The time spent in the class went by fast since the pace of the curriculum was swift, which Linex-Johnson concluded was uncommon in a public school setting. He reconciled his classmates’ dedication to the courses allowed deeper interactions with professors.
“You normally wouldn’t get that at the high school level because so many high school students are immature,” Linex-Johnson admitted.
Along with those interactions, all of his dual-credit professors were inspirational.
“All of us looked up to our dual credit teachers because since we did so well in their classes, we got to enjoy them and learn from them and understand more and from professors,” he elaborated.
Now that Linex-Johnson is a high school graduate and has an associate’s degree under his belt, he enlisted in the U.S. Navy and will live in Chicago to train. He will participate in an accelerated program in nuclear engineering training, which is similar to a four-year degree in that field within six months.
Since Linex-Johnson scored a 90 on his ASVAB, he had the choice between submarines or living on an aircraft carrier. The decision was simple, and the submarine life would be in his future. He expressed that the lifestyle is smaller and a tight-knit setting rather than the carrier that is like a “floating city.” He also revealed the opportunities to advance on a submarine are more likely.
“I want to be a leader,” Linex-Johnson assured.
It was the first year in the Navy Junior Reserve Officers Training Corps at Red Oak High School that inspired him to join the Navy. All four years in high school Linex-Johnson participated in NJROTC, band and Hawk Scholars, managing a 6 a.m. — 9 p.m. daily schedule.
“It was such a struggle to manage everything — completely involved in band, completely involved in ROTC, be completely involved in my academics. I lived, and I started to become friends with everyone I knew," he explained.
And, since he did not have enough school hours to take his college electives since he was in extracurriculars, he had to take the extra course over the summer at Navarro College.
After Linex-Johnson experienced the real college setting, he concluded, “I honestly agree that the dual credit teachers are much harder because they are trying to prepare you for a university goal while doing their best while the community college is worrying about what you need to that class.”
But when reflecting on the time sacrificed to study and some sleepless nights, Linex-Johnson is prepared for a bright future.
“I believe it’s prepared me for a community college setting,” Linex-Johnson concluded. “That’s because of the small, tight-knit group in our cohort. All of the questions and knowledge are all preparing us for a university standard while being able to maintain a community college surrounding.”
Even though the college graduation was a significant accomplishment and help a substantial academic status for Linex-Johnson, walking the stage as a Red Oak High School graduate meant much more.
“I think the college graduation encompasses all of the struggles of one area of our life during high school while the high school graduation encompasses not only that graduation but graduation from our electives and we are leaving our friends.”
Ashley Ford | @aford_news | 469-517-1450