Luna and Fiala

Teacher Andrew Fiala with Aspire scholar Perla Luna.

“MHA Foundation has played a huge role in the success of the Aspire program,” says Payson High School physics teacher Drew Fiala.

The Aspire Arizona Foundation, a nonprofit supported by local donors including the MHA Foundation, enables students who might not otherwise have continuing education available to them, get an academic leg up toward success.

Fiala sat down with past Aspire scholar, Perla Luna, currently an Arizona State University student in Tempe. During her high school years at Payson High School, Luna was able to take dual-credit courses, simultaneously earning credits for both high school and college, through the Aspire program. Discussing the college course work she completed during high school, Luna says, “I had a really great experience, actually much better than regular high school courses. When people are in the right mindset and they want to achieve something, it makes it easier to get ahead and to really get engaged with the professor or teacher.”

She admits that the compulsory nature of the average high school class has the misfortune of placing together the entire spectrum from highly motivated students to downright apathetic classmates, which ends up being distracting to those who want to learn.

“These classes were a great stepping stone, a great introduction before I stepped into the university (setting). It definitely did open a lot of doors for me,” Luna says.

She also highlights the financial benefits of the program. Aspire pays tuition for up to three dual-credit courses per semester that count as high school and college credit.

“We live in a rural community and maybe a lot of families don’t have the money to be able to pay for these kinds of things. It really did make having higher education less of a burden financially,” she says.

The financial benefits are substantial. A student can potentially graduate from high school with enough credits to enter college as a junior. At ASU tuition costs $11,000 per year and living expenses and books often boost the cost to $30,000 per year. Families could potentially save $60,000 by taking advantage of the dual-credit program. Aspire’s goal is to make a college education accessible, affordable and attainable for all Payson students and that education elevates everyone.

Students participating in the dual-credit program can graduate from high school with a substantial number of college credits already on their transcripts, all before ever stepping foot on a college campus. College level courses include classes such as calculus, physics, chemistry and English. Some high school students have even completed enough coursework to earn an associate degree at the same time they receive their high school diploma.

Fiala says, “When I think of that sort of opportunity being around ... It just puts our students at a whole new level, where they are able to compete and be ahead of the curve.”

“Making a college education available to a wider variety of students is our highest aspiration,” says Aspire board member Chelle Barth.

Since the foundation started in 2016, it has helped 349 students taking almost 3,500 college-level credits and has paid $161,000 in dual-credit tuition since inception. “All because the community cared about them,” Barth says.

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