East Side Aligned

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June 2018 — Walking Across Two Stages

Montez Holton, Valedictorian of the East St. Louis Senior High School Class of 2018, walked across two stages in May: earning a high school diploma and associate’s degree.

Montez Holton, Valedictorian of the East St. Louis Senior High School Class of 2018, walked across two stages in May: earning a high school diploma and associate’s degree.

Montez and 29 other Flyers are participants in Running Start, a partnership program between School District 189 and Southwestern Illinois College (SWIC). Montez had to qualify on academic merit to take all his Junior and Senior level classes at SWIC. He paid $0 for his associate’s degree, as District 189 covered all his tuition, books, supplies, meals and transportation expenses.

Montez plans to use his 68 college hours of credit to transfer to Fisk University in Nashville, Tennessee. He will enter this fall as a college Junior on a full tuition scholarship worth about $20,000 per year. Since the cost of Fisk is approximately $32,000 per year for tuition, fees, housing and meals, Montez will begin his college career with a $64,000 savings.

Is Early College Worth the Sacrifice?

Although he and his family are very proud and excited about Montez’s accomplishments, he will tell you that it did not come without a cost. He ran cross-country and track for two years, but quickly discovered that working up to 30 hours per week and taking college level courses left little time for practice and competition.

“I tried to go to practice and compete the first semester,” said Montez, “but studying for college courses and juggling everything was overwhelming.”  He said that he misses that part of high school, but the college credit is worth the sacrifice. Montez says that he would tell anyone choosing Running Start to be ready to be independent, work hard, and sacrifice.

29 Others in Running Start

Is Montez an outlier? Absolutely not. The first Running Start cohort was from the Class of 2017, which celebrated 4 seniors who earned both a high school diploma and associate’s degree. Now there are 29 others from East St. Louis Senior High School in the Running Start program – 5 others graduating like Montez with two diplomas – and even more who are on track to graduate next year. All are earning transferable college credits through the program and getting a “running start” on their postsecondary ambitions.



Community Contact Information


Lead Intermediary Organization

United Way of Greater St. Louis

Region Story

Recognizing a growing sense of urgency to achieve measurably better outcomes for children and youth in the East St. Louis District 189 footprint, a group of committed stakeholders began laying the foundation for a collective impact process in November 2012. This process, now known as East Side Aligned, envisions a day when all children and youth in the greater East St. Louis community are supported – physically, intellectually, and emotionally – and ready for success in school, work and life. Our collective mission is to create the conditions that will equip every child for success through aligning and advancing policy, practice and investment across sectors.

The collective impact process has presented an opportunity for community stakeholders to coalesce around bold action on behalf of young people. Using the Forum for Youth Investment’s Ready by 21® developmental pipeline to shape our work, the initiative is currently undertaking a master planning process to improve outcomes for children and youth.

Areas of Expertise

  • Collective Impact
  • Pathways Curriculum Development
  • Career Information and Advising
  • Employer Engagement
  • Opportunity Youth (Non-engaged Young Adults)

Prioritized STEM Industry Clusters

Key Success to Date

  • Conducted a Pathways to Prosperity Asset Mapping in East St. Louis with JFF
  • Secured funding and employer engagement for Career Cruising Inspire
  • All East St. Louis School District students (7-12th grade) developed their individual learning plan for college and career pathways
  • Recognized at the annual College Changes Everything Conference for its work

Key Goals for Next 2 Years

  • Implementation of the middle school Possible Futures and Possible Selves career exploration pilot program
  • Create a dual credit agreement with Kaskaskia College
  • Offer a one-day job shadowing experience with St. Elizabeth’s Hospital

High School Career Development Project

  • Create a Health Science job-shadowing program with St. Elizabeth’s Hospital so students can obtain the necessary field hours for the CNA certification and expand the paid internship experience program for high school students with moderate to severe mental disabilities. One example of a current work-based learning opportunity is twice a month with the school-based food pantry students unpack bulk donations and divide them up into family boxes for distribution.