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FARMINGTON — The newest high school in San Juan County opened its doors today.

San Juan College High School allows students to graduate with a high school diploma and an associate degree.

It is the only early college high school in the state that functions as a partnership between four school districts and a college, according to the New Mexico Public Education Department. Right now, there are 25 early college high schools in New Mexico, according to state education department spokesman Robert McEntyre.

San Juan College High School graduates — who come from the Aztec, Bloomfield, Central Consolidated and Farmington school districts — will earn a high school diploma and 60 hours of college credit. Those credits are enough to earn an associate degree from San Juan College, and they can be transferred to another school as students continue their education.

Student Shakira Davis said the school gives her the chance to become the first person in her family to enroll in college. She was enrolled at Kirtland Middle School last year.

"It was very exciting, I really appreciated it," Davis said, of being chosen to attend the school in its inaugural year.

Earlier this year, 123 students applied to enroll at the new school. Through a lottery system, 80 students were chosen for the first year.

The high school — operated by the Farmington Municipal School District — is located on San Juan College’s main campus in Farmington on the first floor of the Learning Commons building, below the library.

After their first period class, students today toured the school and parts of the college campus, said Principal Don Lorett.

Students then gathered for an assembly in the Henderson Fine Arts Center, where they met their four teachers, received their assigned Apple MacBook Air laptops and learn about the school’s operations.

San Juan College President Toni Pendergrass, as well as Gayle Dean, president of San Juan College Foundation, stopped by to visit with the students. Pendergrass said she was thrilled the high school is open and was eager to meet the students.

"This (early college high school) is one of the few nationwide that is in partnership with four school districts," Pendergrass said. "I think it’s pretty spectacular."

After lunch, students visited their classes, following an abbreviated bell schedule.

All students are enrolled in a college course each semester, including a Student Success course in the fall and a computer training course in the spring.

Several students today said they were already interested in pursuing a career in the medical field.

Daira Trujillo said she wants to be a doctor or surgeon, and San Juan College High School provided the quickest route to get there. Today, she said she was still adjusting to school’s location on the college campus.

"It is kind of weird because it’s not a normal high school," Trujillo said. "It’s a college, and there are college people here."

Her friend, EmmaRaye Gilmore, is interested in becoming a pediatrician and said taking college courses early might help her earn a medical scholarship.

Gilmore and Trujillo have been friends since third grade and both attended Mesa View Middle School last year. Gilmore said it was nice to have a friend at the school.

Social studies teacher Rich Wallace commended the students for having the courage to leave their schools and districts to enroll at a brand new school.

“It takes a lot of courage for the kids to do what they are doing,” Wallace said. “To be the ones blazing the road for the rest of the county.”

Joshua Kellogg covers education for The Daily Times. He can be reached at 505-564-4627.

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