Sarah Ward is 17 years old and has lived in Colleton County all of her life. Like most typical teenaged girls, she loves to shop and be with friends. But Sarah is anything but typical.
She just recently graduated from Colleton County High School. But she also graduated with an associate degree from … college, the first person to achieve this at CCHS.
Keeping excellent grades and excelling in extracurricular activities is enough for any student. But how did a high schooler receive an associate degree from college?
“When I first began my sophomore year, I remember being told by my guidance counselor that this was the year that kids could become eligible to take dual enrollment courses and start getting college credit. So naturally I embraced the opportunity. It wasn’t until my mom and I met with my guidance counselor Kathy Shider that we were reminded that someone could actually attain their associate degree through the program,” said Sarah.
Even though an associate degree was possible, it had never been done before. And some classes that were needed for the degree were not offered at the high school. But Sarah was determined, and she made that degree her goal.
With the help of her family, her favorite staff member Mr. Johnson and Jane Brewer at Salk, she was able to achieve her goal. They were supportive and pushed her to do things that she wouldn’t have done otherwise.
“Sarah Ward has set the bar high at Colleton County High School for many students coming behind her,” said Shider, her counselor. “From an education perspective, Sarah’s mother, Lorrine Ward, has always been an active parent in the lives of her three children in public education in Colleton County. We encourage all parents to take an active part in their children’s education. Make it a point to visit your child’s school and learn about dual credit.”
Sarah said that her mother is her greatest motivator and has been a constant positive influence on her life. Her mother encouraged her to reach for the associate degree.
“I did this because I knew it would help save me money and time in school. When I get to college, I will have already completed the basics so I can start focusing on my major,” Sarah said.
Since her favorite subject is science, she plans to major in biology at the University of South Carolina-Columbia this upcoming fall. She then wants to attend medical school to become a pediatrician.
Attaining a high school diploma and associate degree at the same time wasn’t easy.
“The hardest part of the experience I feel was ignoring the negativity. There were so many people who had doubts and felt the need to voice their opinion on what they thought was possible and what they thought I could handle. It was also difficult getting approval for everything — from being able to take classes on the campus, to being able to get registered for certain classes. I also had to make a lot of sacrifices, especially with my free time. I had to take summer classes, and during my senior year, I wasn’t able to be at the high school at all. It was all pretty difficult, but worth it,” she said.
“The best part of my experience was receiving my degree because when I finished it, it gave me a piece of mind to know that everything I had done and given up, up until this point, wasn’t done in vain,” she said.
Sarah realizes that she couldn’t have accomplished everything without help. “I feel like I received the most help from Ms. Brewer at Salkehatchie. If I ever had a problem, without a doubt, she would help get it solved. There wasn’t ever anything I couldn’t do as long as I consulted with and left it up to her, so I’m very thankful for that,” Sarah said.
At 17, she now only has two years left in college.
“I don’t feel like I’ve lost out on the four-year college experience on campus. I believe I still have time to experience everything and get involved in what I want. In addition, I have also had the opportunity to participate in summer programs on the campuses of Claflin University and USC-Columbia, where I stayed on campus in a dorm room and attended classes like an actual student,” said Sarah.
“Take advantage of the opportunities made available to you by the high school and take the dual credit courses through USC-Salkehatchie. It will take a lot of sacrifice, you will not have any free time, and no summer vacations. In order to earn an associate degree, you must put the time in,” she added.