SCOTT COUNTY, Ind. (WDRB) Following scrutiny surrounding their community, Austin High School students are getting a leg up in their education and life with another reason to be proud of calling their small town home. 

Scott County is still under a public health emergency following its HIV epidemic last year that was linked to drug users sharing needles.  

"There has been a lot of negatives that have been swirling around our community for the past year and I think it's just good because we can finally be proud of something," Meagan Hollan, graduate said.

Austin High School isn't letting the bad outweigh the good.

"I plan to attend Purdue College of technology in New Albany for Mechanical Engineering," Matthew Terry, graduate said.

"I got so many text messages and emails back like 'oh my gosh, you graduated from college. That's insane,'" Elizabeth Lee said.

Students are earning dual credits for high school and college, earning an associates degree with their high school diploma. 

David Schill, Principal of Crothersville Junior-Senior High School wrote the program. "A lot of people living in our community who had never been to college. There were opportunities, they might not be able to go if we didn't try to take some opportunity to provide that," Schill said.

Crothersville and Austin joined together and partnered with Ivy Tech, which lent its professors.

"We're high school students taking college classes. Just like any other college student," Lee said.

The school corporation pays a minimal fee, however, it doesn't cost students anything.

The program saw seven graduates a few years ago. 30 students between the two schools graduated this year.

"I sort of saw my future flash before my eyes. I knew that it was a step for something great and something that I would be able to accomplish later in life. It was the starting point. It was surreal. It was amazing, remarkable time," Terry said.

"I'll be going into college in the fall, technically as a freshman but I will be a junior on the roster. I have 63 credits that I'm graduating with and it's all thanks to our administration," Emily Keller said.

"It's the quan of my whole teaching career. It's just so exciting to see these kids say that they have an associates degree," Charlie Fraley, Media Specialist and Dual Credit Liaison said. "I don't even think the students realize what they're accomplishing at their age."

Students said the program makes a college degree seem more attainable. "I realize it's an absolute reality for me. Or for anyone, anyone who wants to put in that effort," Terry said.

The administration also believes it's a solid effort to keep students and jobs there.

"We're hoping that also will be a means of helping developing our communities," Schill said.

"We like to turn these negatives into positives. So, this academy program is for us the light at the end of the tunnel," Terry said.

They hope it's just the beginning.

"My goal ultimately is to have our entire high school early college,"Fraley said.

"We think we've got some kids that can shine, they just need the opportunity to show people what they can do and that's our next step," Robert Anderson, Superintendent of Scott County School District said.

The administration hopes to expand the program, so students can earn specific certificates. They're also talking to Indiana University Southeast about bringing in its professors.

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