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WESTFORD — This Saturday, four students at Nashoba Valley Technical High School will walk away from their graduation commencement not only with a diploma but an associate degree in hand.

Seniors Josh Desrochers, Mina Henes, Alexis Tucker and Amanda Woods have all worked for the last two years to complete high school while also attending college. All the students attended Middlesex Community College with the exception of Woods, who attended Mount Wachusett Community College. Through the school’s dual enrollment program, the students will receive both pieces of paper, plus a technical certification from Nashoba Tech in their field of choice, like the rest of their fellow 160 graduates.

Woods, 18, of Townsend, is also the class valedictorian. She studied in the dental assistant program and now plans to attend Regis College before going onto medical school. She’s on the fast track to receive both her bachelor and master’s degree in three years, thanks to her hard work at Wachusett.

“I said, ‘Wow. I can get two years done?'” Woods said, recalling when she first learned about the Nashoba Tech program. “I wanted to be challenged and get two years under my belt. It was a little cheaper to do it that way, too.”

Superintendent Judith Klimkiewicz and Principal Denise Pigeon met with students Wednesday before an awards ceremony to discuss their college experiences. Tucker, 18, of Littleton, explained how each day of her senior year, she’d go to morning classes at Middlesex, and then drive to Nashoba for after-school activities including drama club. She studied in the school’s TV, media and theater program.

“There’s no senioritis for this group, that’s for sure,” Pigeon said.

Henes said he was looking for more of a challenge. He and Desrochers, both 18-year-olds from Chelmsford, studied in the engineering program at the school. Now with their associate degrees, Desrochers said he hopes to go into chemical or plastics engineering, while Henes wants to become a surgeon.

“I felt like I needed a little bit more of a push and to get two years of college under my belt at the same time,” Henes said.

Klimkiewicz said she pushed for dual enrollment to launch back in 1998 and estimates there have been more than 30 students who graduated with an associate degree in that time. Another dozen or so are enrolled in these community colleges this year and will graduate with college credits. The 2014 program at Nashoba Tech also includes Fitchburg State University.

“They save money. That’s why most of them did it,” she said, “but I think you shouldn’t underestimate the preparedness of this because it’s very unfortunate that many of (students) go off to college for the first time their freshman year, after paying $50,000 in tuition, and realize, ‘What do you mean I have to be in class at 8 a.m.?'”

Tucker agreed she felt more prepared for college now having taken this opportunity.

“You’re responsible for everything,” she said. “Your teachers are not going to come chase you. It’s freedom, but it’s also scary and terrifying because you’re responsible for everything now.”

Pigeon said she is proud of these students for taking the initiative.

“They exemplify who were are here. We’re a school that offers many opportunities,” she said. “It’s wonderful to see students who have so many options, and students who take advantage of those options.”

Follow Samantha Allen on Twitter and Tout @SAllen_89.

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