The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

May 3, 2014

Schools adding more opportunities for students

Frank Sojak

JOHNSTOWN — It’s not just students who are taking on added commitments when it comes to dual-education programs.

Many local high schools are branching out in terms of the number of courses that they offer and the colleges and universities with which they partner.

Central Cambria teacher Wade Klezek has witnessed the growth firsthand. He took psychology and sociology college courses from Pennsylvania Highlands Community College when he was a student at Central Cambria nine years ago.

When he was a high school student, the dual-enrollment program was just getting started at the school.

“I graduated with nine credits,” he said. “We’ve had students (since then) who graduated one-half year early from college, saving them a ton of money.”

Accelerated pace

In addition to Penn Highlands, Ligonier Valley High School has partnered with the University of Pittsburgh, St. Francis University and Mount Aloysius College to provide college courses to students.

For the current school year, 34 students enrolled in Penn Highlands courses while 29 opted for St. Francis, seven for Mount Aloysius and five for Pitt, according to high school Principal Tim Kantor.

Greater Johnstown High School has seen the number of students participating in its programs grow at a rapid pace.

In the past four years, the  number of students in Penn Highlands’ Accelerated College Education (ACE) program has increased from 41 to 200, according to the high school. In the past two years, enrollment in the Associate Degree in High School program has jumped from 14 to 31.

“As of now, we have over 40 college-course offerings on our campus through our partnership with the Pennsylvania Highlands Community College,” high school Principal Michael Vuckovich said.

Taking the lead

Vuckovich said the programs are vital to the area’s economic turnaround.

“Without question, Greater Johnstown High School will be at the center of the area’s improvement by providing students with quality educational opportunities,” he said.

“We need to help our students make smart academic and financial choices. ACE courses do just that.”

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The credits are transferable to colleges and universities, so ACE not only prepares students for post-secondary work, it also lessens the cost of attaining a degree, he said.

“We have over 200 students enrolled in taking a college course now at Greater Johnstown High School,” he said. “Furthermore, of that 200, 110 are taking between six and 10 college credits this year alone. We are extremely proud of their effort and commitment to investing in their future and the future of Johnstown.”

Greater Johnstown Superintendent Gerald Zahorchak said the school’s strategy to enhance ACE and its sister program is to raise expectations for all students who demonstrate a readiness for college work, regardless of the age of the students.

“Once we begin graduating dozens of students who have 60 college credits and an associate degree granted at the end of their senior year of high school, many more students and their families will begin to aspire to reach similar goals,” Zahorchak said. “Our entire region will benefit along with the children who save thousands of dollars against college costs.”

Pitching in

Vuckovich said the high school raises funds to help cover costs associated with the dual-enrollment programs.

“We have been extremely fortunate to have wonderful community individuals and organizationsā€ˆas well as various business and industry leaders support our students’ efforts in taking college courses while in high school,” he said.

Frank Sojak is a reporter for The Tribune-Democrat. Follow him on Twitter at