TARPON SPRINGS — The ribbon cutting ceremony for SPC-Tarpon Springs’ new Collegiate High School boasted a guest speaker list featuring a who’s-who of political and academic dignitaries, including U.S. Rep. Gus Bilirakis, state Rep. Chris Sprowls, Tarpon Springs Mayor Chris Alahouzos and SPC-Tarpon Provost Rodrigo Davis.

The local luminaries came to the campus Friday, Aug. 27, for the grand opening of SPC’s new charter high school, located in a wing of the Bilirakis Building on the Klosterman Road campus.

According to officials, SPC’s second Collegiate High School will allow up to 240 students in grades 10-12 to be able to simultaneously earn a high school diploma, an Associate in Arts (AA) degree as well as qualify for a Bright Futures scholarship, thanks to a dual-enrollment program.

The Tarpon campus joins the original SPCHS-St. Petersburg, which opened in 2004, bringing new education opportunities to Pinellas County, according to SPC President Tonjua Williams.

“St. Petersburg College has always been interested in working very hard to accelerate programming and get students through quickly so that they can go ahead and enjoy their lives and enjoy a high living wage,” Williams said. “The Collegiate High School is one of those ways that we do that.”

Williams noted SPCHS students “graduate at 18 years old as juniors in college, and it did not cost their parents a dime,” and she thanked Sprowls for working to get the funding to open the Tarpon campus.

“Representative Chris Sprowls has been very instrumental in our ability to open this particular high school,” she said. “We want to thank you so much for your support.”

After Bilirakis praised the school his family has long supported and where he has an office, Sprowls, a New York native and former state attorney who grew up in Pinellas County, recalled attending summer camp at then St. Pete Junior College and noted how the school has changed many lives.

“This college was created here to give opportunities for learning for kids throughout Pinellas County,” Sprowls said. “And that vision has only grown over time with this opportunity to expand to this Collegiate High School to continue to give North Pinellas families options and choices.”

Alahouzos also spoke about the impact the school could have on families in the area, stating “students will be able earn both their high school diploma and college degree here in Tarpon Springs. This opportunity is beneficial to the students from the area, including those in Tarpon Springs and other schools in Pinellas County.”

Perhaps the speaker with the best perspective on the school was 17-year-old recent SPCHS-St. Pete grad Kaycie Tran, a nursing student at SPC who eloquently and emotionally explained what the Collegiate High School experience meant to her.

“It’s the best decision I ever made to this day,” Tran said while praising the hands-on involvement of SPCHS faculty, staff and students, who helped her overcome obstacles inside the classroom and out. “That school is such a close-knit family, it’s smaller so everyone knows each other…and it’s really nice to know people have my back and support me all the way.”

Tran said thanks to the support system, she became president of the National Honor Society chapter and a leader in her class. “I’m the first of my family to even attend college, so to be able to say I graduated early, as well, I’m very proud…. Thank you for giving me the confidence and the voice I needed at Collegiate.”

Following ribbon cuttings inside and in front of the facility, several attendees spoke about the new school.

“It’s extremely exciting,” SPCHS-Tarpon Principal Ian Call said. “This has been a long process getting everything ready, beginning when we applied for our charter two and a half years ago, and to see it come to fruition today is very exciting.”

Call said the school is for “students who are motivated and want to take advantage of the opportunity do the best here,” noting enrollment criteria includes a 3.0 unweighted GPA and passing an enrollment exam. “The work is more challenging, so you have to be willing to do the work.”

Sprowls agreed.

“You always focus on the work, and nothing worth doing is easy,” he said as he ducked in and out of a few classrooms. “But the impact that work will have will outlast all of us.”

Asked how he felt about seeing the culmination of years of hard work pay off, Sprowls said it was “a great day for North County and a great opportunity for North Pinellas families. They deserve it.”

For more information on St. Petersburg College’s Collegiate High School, visit spchs.spcollege.edu.