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East Ridge High School student earns spot at Dougherty Family College at the University of St. Thomas

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​East Ridge High School class of 2018 graduate Habtamu Lajebo will be one of about 160 students welcomed to the Dougherty Family College at the University of St. Thomas next fall. Created in 2017, the school gives students, particularly those from diverse and economically disadvantaged backgrounds, the opportunity to earn a degree in a supportive environment.

One of seven children in his family, Habtamu will be the first to attend college. He has worked hard for this opportunity but credits the Advancement Via Individual Determination (AVID) program at East Ridge in part for his success.

Habtamu came to Minnesota with his family from Ethiopia in 2011. He started in middle school in St. Paul, where he learned English as a sixth-grade student.

“I would come home from school and try to do my homework but I couldn’t understand it because it was in English,” said Habtamu.

He said it was a new challenge for him because until then he had been a star student.

Habtamu continued to say he struggled in school, through his transition to East Ridge High School as a freshman. As a new student, it was difficult to fit in and his priority was about getting along with people and not learning. But his priorities changed after his sophomore year.

“I saw my GPA and I was worried I wouldn’t get into college,” he said.

That summer Habtamu set new goals for himself, including bringing up his grades. His junior year, he earned A’s and B’s in his courses. Now, finishing his senior year he says it all fell into place for him. His grades are up, he’s made good friends and found support in East Ridge’s AVID program.

“AVID was a good experience... It’s like a family, they accept you and you can express your feelings. There is always someone there to listen,” he said.

Through AVID, Habtamu learned about the Dougherty Family College. The two-year program gives students a structured curriculum that includes leadership development, mentoring and internships. At the end of the two years, students earn an associate degree with the opportunity to continue their education at a four-year college.

Since most Dougherty students demonstrate high financial need, it comes at an affordable price. For the 2017-18 school year, the cost of tuition was $15,000, significantly less than the cost of tuition for the larger University of St. Thomas which was $40,224 in the 2017-18 school year. Furthermore, many Dougherty students qualify for additional financial aid and the school says that for the 2017-18 school year the average cost of tuition after financial aid was applied was $2,006.

Habtamu was accepted into the program for its second year this spring. 

“There are so many people at our school who were excited for Habtamu because they know how hard he has worked and how much potential he has,” said East Ridge AVID Coordinator, Bridget Plante.

“I have been a principal for 20 years and I have never been prouder of any student. Habtamu exemplifies behaviors that strengthen our school’s climate and culture, and he serves as a positive role model to our underclassmen. He combines a collaborative attitude mixed with a passion and fascination for learning that elevates him as a natural leader with his peers and his teachers and advisors,” said East Ridge High School Principal Jim Smokrovich.

Habtamu says he is looking forward to the next chapter in his life – which he hopes will eventually lead to him becoming an International Business Analyst.

To learn more about the Dougherty Family College at the University of St. Thomas visit www.stthomas.edu/dfc.