Doubled up on graduation— 3 seniors are the first in Botetourt to earn Associate’s and high school diplomas together


From left, Erin Bohannon, Katie Dooley and Sydney Gordon are the first Botetourt County high school students to earn Associate’s Degrees in Health Sciences Specialization and their high school diplomas at the same time.
Photo by Ed McCoy

Lord Botetourt and James River seniors won’t receive their high school diplomas until next Monday and Tuesday evenings, respectively; but three of those seniors already have their college associate’s degrees in hand.

LBHS seniors Kaelyn (Katie) Dooley and Erin Bohannon and JRHS senior Sydney Gordon were among several hundred Virginia Western Community College students who received degrees during 2017 commencement exercises Friday evening in Roanoke.

They are the first Botetourt County STEM-H Academy students to distinguish themselves by earning an associate’s degree and high school diploma at the same time.

It was not an easy task, but it fulfills their initial dream and another collective dream held by the Botetourt school administration and School Board.

Five years ago, the Botetourt School Board approved a bold move that the school administration promised would open doors for students who want to get more immersed in engineering, science, math, technology and health— fields where job opportunities are expected to grow and where more advanced high school classes are almost a necessity for graduates to compete for college placements and, in some fields, the workforce.

Within a year of approving plans for the Science, Technology, Engineering, Math and Health (STEM-H) Academy at Greenfield Education and Training Center, the doors were open– that was August 2013.

The idea was that students could take the entry-level courses for freshmen and sophomores in several of those fields at Greenfield, and as upper classmen move to the Regional Academy at Virginia Western Community College. During the process they’d be earning college credits along the way.

The idea showed success right away. After all, Botetourt County schools had been offering dual enrollment courses for years, allowing students to leave high school with college credits and, in some instances, certifications in a variety of fields.

Now, four years after the first freshmen entered the STEM-H programs, the school division can put down a marker showing its possible to “double up” on diplomas.

Dooley, Bohannon and Gordon graduated with A.S. degrees in Health Sciences Specialization. For Dooley and Bohannon, it means they’ll cut two years off the four years generally needed to complete a BS degree in nursing, a requirement to become a registered nurse (RN).

Both are headed to Radford University’s nursing program where they have been accepted into the very competitive second part of the university’s nursing program– Dooley this fall and Bohannon in the spring.

After getting her BS degree, Bohannon plans on working in a hospital, getting her master’s and then hopefully be able to move on to Jefferson College of Health Sciences with plans to become a physician’s assistant.

After becoming an RN, Dooley plans to work a year and go back to school to get her doctor of nursing practice.

Gordon is headed to James Madison University where she plans on getting a BS, a master’s, then a doctor of audiology, with plans to open her own practice one day. She, too, expects her associate’s will help her knock as many as two years off of what would normally take eight years.

All three have also received scholarships because of what they’ve already achieved and their academic standings.

The associate’s degree requires 60 college credit hours– in their case, a required 19 dual enrollment/college or advanced placement courses over their four high school years. They took two college chemistry courses, college biology, philosophy and psychology course, anatomy and physiology courses, nutrition and human development, computer concepts and applications, ethics, microbiology, two college level English courses, statistics and pre-calculus and trigonometry.

Plus, their normal high school course requirements.

The daunting schedule did not keep them from other school activities, though.

Bohannon is in the LBHS band, Dooley is a LBHS sideline and competition cheerleader and Gordon is on the JRHS softball team.

It did take discipline, though, and many short nights.

While they admitted their academic schedules were “close to all consuming,” they also agreed they found they had to set aside time for themselves– and that there was no room for procrastination.

Oh, and there were a lot of “long nights,” Gordon added.

And, all three took summer classes as well.

Twenty-one students entered the Health Sciences program at Greenfield when the three were freshmen. Some will collect their high school diplomas next week and head to college with a leg up, as well.

Others learned that the health care field wasn’t what they thought it would be. Still others found it too difficult.

Bohannon explained that being able to get an understanding of what was involved in health care helped students realize it wasn’t for them. She said a friend entered the program but realized it wasn’t what he wanted. He found his interest was in music instead.

The program has continued to grow. This coming fall, 40 freshmen are registered for Health Sciences at Greenfield, the three said.

Both Dooley and Bohannon knew they wanted to go into nursing or health care from an early age. It was in their blood.

Dooley’s mother was a nurse in labor and delivery. “I loved it,” Dooley said. She got to shadow nurses in labor and delivery last summer, and saw a C-section. She said she definitely likes the babies.

Bohannon’s mother and sister are nurses. “I grew up with it,” she explains.

Gordon’s path is a little different, but family-related as well.

“My grandmother and I used to watch sign language programs on TV,” Gordon says. “I loved it.”

She said she’d see videos of deaf kids turning on their hearing implants for the first time and the looks on their faces. “That’s what I want to do,” she said.

After talking with a JMU professor about the different paths audiology has, she learned about veterans returning from war with hearing damage. “I broadened the idea of what I want to do,” she added.

They also appreciated the opportunity the school division program provided. They received their associate’s degrees at little cost because of the way it was set up between the school division and the Regional Academy at VWCC.

That won’t be the case going forward. Beginning this fall, students generally will have to pay a discounted tuition for dual enrollment courses provided in the county secondary schools and full tuition for courses at the Regional Academy. The change was the result of the way VWCC was counting students. An audit forced the college to change that.

Students taking dual enrollment/college courses at Greenfield, the high schools and Botetourt Technical Education Center will not have to pay full tuition.

— Ed McCoy