By SKYE SEIPP
It took the Mesquite Independent School District about two years, but administrators have now pledged to join the Dallas County Promise, and Eastfield will be one of the prime locations for students to attend.
This year will see the first group of students with MISD sign the Promise pledge. They are expected to increase enrollment numbers at Eastfield starting in fall 2020.
Dallas County Promise offers free tuition and other services to graduating seniors of participating high schools.
“We [the Dallas County Promise] do not work in isolation, so all of our district partners have a relationship with a Dallas County Community College that they establish and value,” said Eric Ban, managing director for the Promise.“Eastfield’s been playing a very large part in the process and I think that’s a division of the community college district leadership is that colleges are really involved in the communities that they serve.”
Not all students who sign up from MISD will attend Eastfield, as the Promise has opportunities for students to attend universities and other schools within the Dallas County Community College District.
Only three of the five schools in MISD will join initially: Mesquite High School, West Mesquite High School and North Mesquite High School. Poteet High School and John Horn High School are expected to join the following year, Ban said.
MISD Superintendent David Vroonland said the reluctance to join the coalition was because they want- ed all five high schools to be a part of the program. But due to how Dallas County Promise is set up, they began with the first three most economically challenged schools in Mesquite.
After conversations with members of Eastfield’s leadership team and people from the Dallas County Promise, MISD decided to join the affiliation.
“One of the advantages we saw was being a part of a cohort of schools that were working toward the same initiative,” Vroonland said. “Not just in terms of being able to collaborate with each other, which is valuable, but also in terms of being able to work as a cohort of schools to influence the state Legislature on some things that we feel are important in terms of supporting kids from poverty especially.”
Dallas County Promise is a “coalition of school districts, colleges, universities, employers and communities” across North Texas that offers tuition assistance and guidance to graduating seniors at qualifying schools.
Currently, 11 school districts and 57 schools (including the three MISD high schools) are a part of the Promise. There has been two cohorts since the Promise started in 2017.
The scholarship program came from the DCCCD Foundation, which is funded by philanthropic dollars to offer students tuition, success coaches and career mentors to help prepare them for higher education, Ban said.
Students are also required to fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, which Ban said helps Dallas County generate more federal and state dollars to aid students in paying for their tuition. He said the private dollars of the DCCCD Foundation are used to pay for the remaining costs.
“We have a wonderful, dynamic economy in Dallas, and it’s only accessible to some,” he said. “So ‘some’ don’t look like our low-income students of color, because we’re not doing well in terms of helping those demographics complete college with the skills and credentials that are required to really participate in the full Dallas economy.”
Ban said the group is building a “county-wide community” that can share resources with each other and provide new learn- ing opportunities.
For many students, deciding where to go to college is about convenience, Ban said. With Eastfield being in Mesquite, students who are looking to a community college are likely to pick Eastfield as their college of choice, he said.
Eddie Tealer, Eastfield president, said talks with MISD began before he came to the college in October 2018. He said he met with Vroonland and other MISD board members and asked, “How can Eastfield be your partner?”
With the help of Janice Hicks, dean of educational partnership, and Mike Walker, vice president of academic affairs and student success, Tealer said they were able to clear up some of the questions and concerns.
Tealer said having MISD join the Promise will be good for Eastfield because of the additional enrollment and better connections with high schools and industries in the community.
“A lot of students in the (first) cohort were economically disadvantaged, so this kind of levels that playing field and brings equity into play,” Tealer said. “We all want everyone to have the opportunity to be successful.”