By Mike Marsee
It started with a seed.
Someone planted the idea in Lexy Riddle’s head that she could earn college credit for free while taking dual-credit courses at Hickman County High School.
Now she has left high school with a bumper crop of credit hours and a plan for a future that she once thought was out of her reach.
Riddle, who plans to pursue a degree in agribusiness economics from Murray State University and a career in agricultural sales – perhaps as a seed salesman – graduated from Hickman County High in May with 44 credit hours that she said have changed her life.
“These hours have kind of jump-started me. It’s given me kind of a head start to college life and my future career,” Riddle said. “Without them I probably wouldn’t even be going to college, because I wouldn’t be able to afford it even if I got scholarships. I’ve always wanted to go to college.”
When Riddle learned about how dual-credit courses could make that possible at no cost to her, she jumped at the opportunity.
“Coming from a family that doesn’t have a lot of money, it was really crazy hearing that I could take college classes absolutely free. I was just astounded that I wouldn’t have to pay anything for these college courses that normally I would have to pay hundreds of dollars for,” she said.
Most of Riddle’s dual-credit courses were taken through the school’s Falcon Academy, which allows students to take courses through Murray State or Western Kentucky Community and Technical College, or to earn credits toward industry certification through Four Rivers Career Academy.
After learning about dual-credit options during her sophomore year, Riddle took a couple of classes in each semester of her junior year and added more classes – and more difficult ones – in her senior year. By her final semester at Hickman County High, she was taking a full freshman load – five classes – as well as two high school classes.
“When I first started, I thought, ‘I don’t know if I’m going to be able to do this. This is going to be really hard,’” she said. “But as I was going through it, I thought, ‘I can understand this, I’ve just got to put forth effort to do it.’ I made sure to study every night over the different modules and the different assignments and try to get them done and make sure they were perfect.
“It made me feel really good that I knew I could do that, especially as a junior and senior in high school, that I knew I could accomplish that and maintain good grades in college. It really set a pattern for me.”
At the same time that she was pulling A’s and B’s in college-level courses, Riddle was serving as president of her school’s FFA chapter, president of the Science Club, secretary of the women’s club and a member of the Beta Club, and she was involved in other activities as well. She also held down part-time jobs at a diner and a doctor’s office.
Less than five years ago, Riddle and her mother were living in a small apartment and struggling to pay for necessities such as soap and detergent. They moved around quite a bit during Riddle’s childhood, but it was a move from South Fulton, Tenn., to Hickman County during her 8th-grade year that changed everything.
A teacher, Karen Dean – who has since retired – took an interest in her, and a great aunt helped her and her mother.
“I started making friends. I started making better grades,” Riddle said. “I had newer clothes, and that made me really happy because I didn’t have to wear the same thing three days a week.”
As she moved into high school, Riddle got involved in clubs and in athletics. Then she added dual-credit courses to her schedule and she realized she was on the fast track to a bachelor’s degree.
She can get that degree in 2.5 years, and she said she plans to pursue a master’s degree in agriculture after that, taking advantage of the fact that the KEES money she has earned in high school will be available for four years after graduation.
“When I joined FFA, I realized that agriculture is my passion. Agriculture is the future of the world, and so are FFA members, in my opinion,” Riddle said.
Riddle, who will be a first-generation high school graduate and college student, said she would advise any student to take advantage of dual-credit courses – and to plan their schedule carefully.
“It’s a great program that allows students to get a head start to college and to further their knowledge while they’re still in high school,” she said. “I would tell a student to definitely take dual credit, just make sure you know what you’re doing before you start. Just start out slow, see how you feel about taking them online and not on campus, because they’re two completely different things, and make sure to follow the course catalog for the program you want.
“It doesn’t matter where you come from, as long as you have the drive to do something you can do it, no matter what your background is or where you think you’re going to go in life.”
This article is part of a series that highlights stories from students, teachers and employers about the path they followed to a successful career. Whether your story involves the career and technical education (CTE) pathway or the university route, we want to hear from you. Share your story with us by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org. You also can visit Facebook and Twitter to receive updates when new stories are posted.