Tuition-free public school opening to bring STEM literacy, dual enrollment opportunities to 11th, 12th graders

Posted at 8:22 PM, May 20, 2021
and last updated 2021-05-21 10:54:38-04

COLORADO SPRINGS — A tuition-free public school for eleventh and twelfth graders that emphasizes STEM literacy, critical thinking, and dual enrollment classes is opening in Colorado Springs.

Ascend College Prep is a newly approved high school that will use small class sizes, individualized instruction, and hands-on experiences to enhance student learning.

"We really looked at what do students need to be prepared for life after high school. It's more than just academics, we really are trying to holistically educate students," said Karin McWhorter, Director of Ascend College Prep.

When the COVID-19 pandemic hit last March, like many parents McWhorter was worried about her son Collin's education.

"When we were thinking about how to get our kids the education we wanted for them with the pandemic, I decided that I would home-school my son. When I told my friends that I would homeschool my son with my background in education, they were like why don't you home-school our kids," said McWhorter.

"My mom had always helped me before because she has all that teaching behind her and she gave me the whole thing. She was like ten problems of homework, and I'd love to teach you Calculus," said Collin McWhorter.

He was worried to take Calculus on a hybrid schedule and was relieved when his mother stepped in to help.

"When we went all online, I heard horror stories about trying to learn Calculus. I can't imagine, that is something I need to learn in person," said Collin.

When word got out amongst her friends, Karin quickly assembled a group of students eager to learn and gain real-life experience. Now she's expanding, turning her private school into a public school with a maximum of 200 students, 50 juniors, and 50 seniors.

"It helps me with the big picture of what I want from my high school education. It's going to help me with aspects in life that I need that are not learned in a typical classroom. As well as I am a student pilot right now working on my private pilot's license and her model incorporates a work-study and independent study for all students and I can use that to get my pilot's license, " said Ella Szucs, Junior, Ascend College Prep.

"I will have a lot of benefit walking into college with college credit under my belt. Knowing that I have this and my college will accept my credit as opposed to AP classes like some colleges won't accept that and it's the only thing the high school offers," said Mati Davis.

Students enrolled in Ascend College Prep will be required to complete a work-study or internship to help prepare them for life after high school.

"We want to give them the opportunity to earn college credit in the safety of a high school classroom and help them prepare for other life events," said Karin. "Both UCCS and CU Denver have a wonderful program called CU Succeed that allows high school students to earn college credit for the course they take at their high school. If our students spend two years with us, they can earn 40 college credits which means they can earn their Bachelors's Degree in three years which is a huge financial saving."

While it is tuition-free, Karin says the CU Succeed program does cost $52 per credit hour. The cost will be funded by students, but the staff is working to raise enough scholarship money to offset that cost and ensure that any student who wants dual enrollment credit can get it.

"Since it was for college credit, she had to model it after a college class. Knowing that it was a harder thing than a high school class, we got used to some not-so-good grades on some tests but the curve helped. Knowing it was okay to fail. Coming in and not being able to do a problem on the homework because it's college calculus. Being able to work through that and learning some tips for when we go to college," said Collin.

Ascend College Prep is contracted through the Board of Cooperative Education Services which will allow them to reach more students in Colorado Springs and surrounding areas.

"I really wanted to be able to embrace students from all of the surrounding districts. Our districts have different personalities and I think it's important to bring students from all of those districts together," said Karin. "The name Ascend wasn't accidental, it actually stands for All Students Can Excel in New Directions. I truly believe this school would be a good fit for any student who is looking to take their education in a new direction."

Karin says it was important to provide families with another option with more opportunities for their students.

"She will take her four core classes Monday through Thursday mornings then in the afternoon she's going to be able to do her flying or other independent study or internship that she wants to do. On Fridays, she's able to be involved with community services and she gets to do all kinds of life lessons that are teenagers aren't necessarily learning in a traditional setting. That to me is fabulous," said Beth Szucs.

"I would highly encourage families to investigate this opportunity, I think it is a fantastic opportunity. Not only for a very high-quality high school education but also the opportunities that they're working to generate agreements with universities, especially college-bound students a head start on that core work they may be required to take," said Matt Davis.

Enrollment just opened for the school and will begin with 100 to 120 students to personalize their educational experience. More information can be found on their website or by emailing Karin at