These Tupelo students graduated college before receiving high school diplomas | Education

TUPELO • For 10 students in Tupelo High School’s 2021 class, crossing the stage to get their high school diploma wasn’t their first graduation ceremony. A week earlier you had graduated from Itawamba Community College with an associate degree.

The Middle College program, which began in the 2019-20 school year, enables high school and senior high school students to take dual credit classes at ICC Tupelo. You earn 15 credits per semester, for a total of 60 credits, to award an associate degree.

The students enroll for a combination of face-to-face and online courses at the ICC Tupelo, but still had a course every semester on the THS campus, such as courses with state examination requirements or courses for which no double credit equivalent is available at the ICC.

The school’s first middle college cohort includes students who will be studying medicine, engineering, political science, accounting and business administration, said Middle College coordinator Tyler Philley.

The program prepares them for success by helping them get two years ahead, he said, because most middle college students are planning an advanced degree that is much longer than the typical four years of college.

Tristen Judy: Jump-starting his Ph.D.


Tristen Judy, one of ten Itawamba Community College graduates before earning a Tupelo High School diploma from the school’s Middle College program.



Tristen Judy, a 2021 Middle College graduate, said his goal upon joining the program is to earn college credits as early as possible so he can finish college quickly.

“I want to shoot for my PhD, so doing two years of college while you’re in high school is a really good move,” said Judy.

During the program, he was able to join the Phi Theta Kappa Honor Society and develop relationships with new friends at the community college level.

Judy will be studying Psychology at the University of Mississippi this fall. He hopes to eventually work as an analyst or special agent for the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

“It feels very strange, but it’s also really cool,” said Judy of her entry into college as a junior. “I’m glad that the first two years are behind me.”

He encourages all Tupelo High School students interested in the Middle College program to choose it.

“It’s a different change, but for a lot of people it’s a welcome change,” said Judy.

Jael Zuniga: Program opens doors to further scholarships


Jael Zuniga, one of ten Itawamba Community College graduates before earning a Tupelo High School diploma from the school’s Middle College program.



Jael Zuniga, another 2021 Middle College graduate, said she sees participating in the program as an opportunity to challenge herself academically.

She initially thought college was going to be scary, but had a lot of guidance throughout the middle college experience.

“I’ve learned to be more sociable,” said Zuniga. “And about the communication with teachers, which was helpful in different situations.”

She will attend the University of Mississippi on campus in Tupelo to study accounting. She wants to do her bachelor’s degree and do internships before deciding on a job in accounting.

“I had several scholarships that I got because of middle college, which was very helpful,” said Zuniga. “It was a nice setting to walk in that way that got me forward.”

She said the middle college program was a good transition from high school to college.

“I’m a little nervous, but I’m not as nervous as I would be because I had this guide,” said Zuniga. “I’ve also taken classes that other students have been through, so that’s what I have in common with them.”

The end of the ICC before the THS was a bit nerve-wracking, because apart from their cohort, everyone else had already completed at least one graduation ceremony. Even so, Zuniga said it was a fun fact to share with people: “I graduated from college before I went to high school.”

Jack Baker: Learning Responsibility, Time Management Skills


Jack Baker, one of ten Itawamba Community College graduates before earning a Tupelo High School diploma from the school’s Middle College program.



Jack Baker, another 2021 Middle College graduate, said his reason for joining the program is to complete two years of college so he can graduate and start work.

He said the ICC teachers were very accommodating and worked with the timetables of middle college students involved in activities or extracurricular activities at Tupelo High.

Baker is moving from the ICC to the University of Southern Mississippi. He will be working towards a bachelor’s degree in international business and is hoping to do an internship at Wesley Hospital in Hattiesburg. After graduating from USM, he plans to earn a Masters of Business Administration from Florida International University.

The two most important things the middle college program taught him were time management and responsibility.

“At one point I was taking 23 hours so I had three online courses and I was working full-time, so I really had to plan in advance when I would work, when I could study, when I would be in class,” said Baker.

Baker said Philley always encouraged students considering the program to think about what is best for them.

“At that point, I thought, ‘This is the best decision for me,’” said Baker, adding that it didn’t work out for some classmates.

The aim is to expand the program further

According to Philley, there are plans to expand the program in the future.

More information

Would you like to learn more about the Middle College program and how to apply? Email Tyler Philley at

Fifteen aspiring seniors will graduate from the program at the end of the 2021-22 school year, and Philley hopes to have 20 juniors enrolled in the program this year with a total of 35 students.

After all, the school wants 20 students in each cohort, for a total of 40 in the program.