Spencer Byrd, superintendent at Meridian High School, spoke to those who attended the luncheon about the Fast Start Program. Photo by Lindsey Rae Vaughn.

Fast Start Program offers boost for Meridian seniors

Meridian High School in Mounds is unique to other Southern Illinois schools. Nearly half of the school’s senior class will be graduating with a full year of college under their belt – for free.

It’s all thanks to the Fast Start Program, which is in its first year at Meridian. Superintendent Spencer Byrd previously launched the program at two other schools.

A select group of seniors take their courses at Shawnee Community College instead of at the high school; all are receiving their high school and college credits.

A luncheon was presented at Shawnee Community College near Ullin for Meridian students, parents, faculty and the college’s staff, on Friday, Oct. 14, to learn more about the program.

Dr. Tim Bellamey, the president of Shawnee Community College, spoke to those who attended the luncheon and shared his thoughts about the Fast Start Program.

“It took a lot of work, but it’s been excellent. They’ve assimilated easily,” Bellamy said. “We have not seen a lot of problems. They are making the grades.”

Meridian High School principal Tony Rinella said the program has an excellent group of students for its pilot year. 

“Graduating from high school is hard enough. They are still involved in extracurricular activities,” Rinella said.

Students who are still involved in extracurricular activities and sports meet with sponsors individually when they miss meetings and are informed by staff and the announcements.

Trio, a federal outreach and student services program which is designed to identify and provide services for individuals from disadvantaged backgrounds, and Talent Search, one of eight Trio programs, are very involved with the students as well.

Corby Hight and Regina Harley, from the guidance department at Meridian High School, are heavily involved with the students and help monitor their progress.

Meridian superintendent Byrd said 14 seniors are part of the Fast Start Program, which is about 50 percent of the senior class. More than 20 juniors are showing interest for next year.

The tuition and books are paid for by the school out of Title I funds.

Students must be skilled in math and ELA (English Language Arts standards) to be eligible for the program.

“Seniors need only a few more credits to graduate,” Byrd said. “Now, seniors have a reason to get a jump on careers.”

This is the first year for the Fast Start Program at Meridian and it will only continue if it goes well, Byrd said. He noted that the students are doing great.

“If I find a student struggling, they go back to Meridian. The goal is to graduate from high school,” Byrd said. “I want people to move to the district to take advantage of this,” he added.

Brittany Nelson and Katie Adams are students in the Fast Start Program. They said the program offers a way for them to better themselves.

“It’s a great opportunity to have the first year of college free,” Nelson said.

“It’s a lot at first, but I’ve really buckled down,” Adams said.

Both students said the group in the program have gotten very close, something that wouldn’t have happened if they were taking classes at the high school.

The Gazette-Democrat

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Anna, Illinois 62906
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