“I don’t like wasting time,” says 18-year-old Geneva Horster. “I like being efficient. Yeah I’m young and I have a bunch of years ahead of me, but why would I waste them?” The 2021 Thetford Academy graduate has been on an accelerated track to a CCV degree in early childhood education, taking more than a full-time course load since last fall.

Geneva started taking CCV classes while she was still in high school, and decided to continue at CCV in large part because she was able to attend tuition-free. She’d won several scholarships, and she’s also been able to utilize the 802 Opportunity Grant, a Vermont Student Assistance Corporation (VSAC) program that provides free CCV tuition to any Vermonter whose family income is $50,000 or less.

“[The grant] allowed me to take seven classes last semester, which is really important to me because I am so excited to graduate this spring, a whole year early, and that wouldn’t have been possible if I couldn’t pay for those credits, obviously, so that was amazing,” says Geneva. “I love a challenge,” she adds, explaining that bulking up on classes motivates her to work harder.

Geneva was homeschooled from kindergarten through seventh grade, and says her mom’s teaching made a strong impression. “She has always really been a role model for an amazing teacher,” Geneva says, “and that, combined with loving kids and loving working with them” inspired her to pursue a career in early childhood education. An eighth grade shadow day in a kindergarten classroom also had a big influence. “I absolutely loved it, and I was like ‘okay, this is what I want to do.’” She enrolled at River Bend Career and Technical Center, where she was able to take dual enrollment CCV classes during high school.

Halfway through Geneva’s junior year, COVID hit. The transition to online learning was a struggle, but she’s grown to love it. “I like it because I can time manage a lot more, and I can run my own schedule.” The disruption also motivated her to accelerate her college plans. “I think because it kind of cut off the relaxed high school experience, it more put me in the academic zone and it really just pushed me a lot further than I think it would have if it had been more normal.”

Geneva has discovered valuable real-world applications for what she’s learning at CCV. When she was a senior in high school and volunteering in a kindergarten classroom, “what I loved about that was that I could take all of the information I learned in the CCV classes I was taking and apply it directly in the classroom…I love learning new things that I can then be like ‘oh, this is how I would implement that,’ and really thinking about how I can use it in my profession.”

The diversity of CCV’s student body is also helping Geneva prepare for a career in early childhood education. “I love it because there are so many people who are older than me and have different experiences, and more experiences, and actually run their own centers and programs,” she says. “And they have all this experience that they bring with new ideas into those classes, which just enriches the classes so much more than if we were all the same age with hardly any experience.”

Geneva has had strong support from CCV faculty and staff, especially her academic advisor. “There are no words to describe how amazing and supportive she is,” Geneva says. “I would not have been able to do any of this without her. She has been there to answer my questions, and help me sign up for different things…she has opened so many doors for me.”

Geneva will graduate from CCV this spring, and she’s still deciding whether to continue on for a bachelor’s degree or jump into the early childhood workforce. Either way, she has a big advantage: she will have completed her first two years of college with zero debt.

“Knowing in the back of my mind that the 802 Opportunity Grant would cover me was such a nice thought, and that was just such a nice safety net.”

To learn more about the 802 Opportunity Grant, visit vsac.org/802opportunity.

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