PLEASANTVILLE — Next fall, Detty Exantus will begin her sophomore year at Pleasantville High School. At the same time, she will begin her first year of college.

Exantus is one of about 60 students enrolled in the inaugural year of the district’s Early College High School program through the George Washington Carver Education Foundation and Atlantic Cape Community College.

“Basically every opportunity that comes my way, I want to be a part of it,” said Detty, 15, who plans to study biomedical engineering.

High school Principal Jim Bonek said the pathways were developed specifically for Pleasantville by evaluating current social situations and emerging career trends.

Bonek said 100 percent of the students at the high school who were eligible to take part in the program have signed up. He said the program is expected to help with the district’s graduation rate, which he said has been steadily increasing over the years.

“Two or three years ago, we were in the mid to upper 70s,” Bonek said.

According to state data, Pleasantville’s graduation rate in 2017 was 86.6 percent. The state average is 90.5 percent.

Research has shown that the Early College High School initiative, a national program started by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, has a profoundly beneficial effect on minority and low-income students, according to a new report from the advocacy group Alliance for Excellent Education, or All4Ed.

Pleasantville administrators hope the program not only increases graduation and post-secondary educations rates, but relieves a financial burden for students when they head to college.

“With the recent economic downturn in this region, being able to return to Pleasantville and provide clear pathways for college and career achievement and attainment for students reminds me just why I became an educator — to impact the lives of everyone I encounter,” said Jerome Taylor, a former Pleasantville teacher who founded the George Washington Carver foundation.

Taylor, who brought Early College High School to South Jersey last year, said Pleasantville is the first district outside Cumberland County he has worked with to implement the program.

The program will be available for sixth- through 12th-grade students. Students who take part at the middle school level will be introduced to career options and given extra academic support to prepare them for the high school program, said middle school Principal Rayna Hendricks.

“I can’t imagine a parent who wouldn’t want their child to go this track,” she said. “It gives them focus. It shows them and teaches them how to set goals early.”

Early College student Joshua Cortes, 13, is in eighth grade now and said he hopes to be a chemical or robotics engineer when he is older. Joshua said the idea of college can be daunting.

“It’s a good feeling to know that we have something there to help us out,” he said.

A special page has been set up on the high school website detailing the three tracks available to students: teaching, STEM, and digital design and performing arts.

Funding for the program is still being worked out, but Taylor said the students will not pay to participate. Atlantic Cape Community College President Barbara Gaba said they are in the process of finalizing the agreement. According to the resolution approved by the Pleasantville school board, the program will cost about $30,000.

Superintendent Clarence Alston said many students at Pleasantville lose focus and motivation in school as they get older. Early College High School is a way to draw them back to academia, he said.

“I like the idea of us being able to start so early and to let them see that success is within their grasp. I think it will contribute to an atmosphere of seriousness about academics and a level of excellence,” Alston said.

Although she is unsure where she sees herself after high school, Detty said she won’t be starting from zero.

“The working field is intense, so whatever opportunity you get, you have to go for it,” she said.

Contact: 609-272-7251 CLowe@pressofac.com Twitter @clairelowe

I began covering South Jersey in 2008 after graduating from Rowan University with a degree in journalism. I joined The Press in 2015. In 2013, I was awarded a NJPA award for feature writing as a reporter for The Current of Hamilton Township.