Chanylla Gibson

Chanylla Gibson is one of 26 seniors graduating Friday who have earned an associate's degree through Palestine High School's dual-credit program. Gibson completed both degrees, despite losing both parents in the past year.

Chanylla Gibson never needed her mom and dad to tell her to finish her homework or get to school. Now she wishes they could.

The Palestine High School senior lost both parents in the last year. Whenever she cried or lost focus, she thought of them.

Instead of giving up, Gibson, 17, rose up.

Gibson will graduate this week in the top 10 percent of her class. She will leave high school with not only a high school diploma but also a certificate and a two-year associate of arts degree from Trinity Valley Community College. She's a certified medical assistant and halfway home to a four-year bachelor's degree. Gibson wants to attend medical school.

Behind her achievements, however, lie many untold heartaches.

Gibson's father, Walter Gibson, lost his battle to cancer in March 2018; her mother, Bobbie Gibson, struggled with congestive heart failure for years, before checking herself into a hospital in December. She died there April 22.

While her parents were ill, Chanylla Gibson, the youngest daughter, took a full load of college classes and participated in cheerleading, basketball, volleyball, and clubs such as National Honor Society, Student Council, and Student Leadership.

Gibson now lives with her sister Chandrea, 24, in Palestine. Chanylla graduates Friday.

“She's an amazing young woman,” said Sarah Johnson, a high school counselor.

Johnson said Gibson did not miss school or deadlines. She didn't ask for help in paying for her graduation cap and gown. “She's worked hard, and we appreciate it.”

Gibson is one of 26 seniors graduating from PHS with associate's degrees this year. Johnson said the counselors work with students individually to determine what careers they want to pursue. They then recommend courses and certifications that support the students' goals.

The associate of arts degree offered through TVCC is just one of the options available to students who qualify. To determine their readiness for college classes, some high school freshmen take the Texas Success Initiative (TSI) for reading and writing.

Qualifying students start, slowly, with one college class. They then add more in their junior and senior years. The associate's degree requires 60 college hours.

PHS also graduates 42 students this year who have completed their core college requirements. They will not graduate with an associate's degree, but can transfer their hours and receive credit at any state university.

Johnson said the degree programs and certifications motivate students and help them save money. This year's seniors earned more than 3,500 college hours while completing their high school diplomas.

Macy Stone, a 2017 PHS graduate, completed 55 college hours during high school. After just two years at Texas A&M University, she completed a bachelor of arts degree this month. Stone said dual-credit classes in high school saved her roughly $30,000 in tuition at A&M and improved her study habits.

PHS also allows students to complete technical certifications so they can work immediately after graduation as welders, cosmetologists, emergency medical technicians, veterinary technicians, medical assistants, registered dental assistants, phlebotomy technicians, or electrocardiogram (EKG) technicians.

Gibson, who completed the medical assistant certification, will continue her education at Louisiana State University. She wants to study biology.

She plans to work at the Lakeview Methodist Conference Center this summer. Above all, Gibson is hanging on to her dreams.

“There were times when I couldn't focus, and I would cry,” she said. “But I wanted to do it for my parents. It's made me a stronger person.”

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