AAEC high school offers students myriad benefits including paid college tuition and a close-knit community

By Joanna Dodder Nellans 

Rachel Partin wasn’t really into public school when she transitioned from homeschooling to the Arizona Agribusiness and Equine Center (AAEC) Early College High School as a sophomore.

But by her junior year at AAEC in Prescott Valley, she became quite close to her teachers and realized she loved it there.

“They are people that taught me to love school,” Rachel says. “It’s like having a second family to love and support you.”

Rachel graduated this spring with 35 college credits in a class of 68 seniors, including two other home-schooled friends. Now she plans to earn both her bachelor’s and master’s in four years at Northern Arizona University. She says she might not even have attended college if not for her experience at the AAEC charter school.

College savings is the main reason Rachel chose AAEC over other schools; it’s unusual because it directly pays community college tuition for its students. Every AAEC student earns at least 17 college credits, and some graduate from high school with associate degrees. AAEC pays Yavapai College (YC) $100,000 to $150,000 annually for its students, said Andrea Popejoy, AAEC registrar and executive assistant. This year’s AAEC graduates have been awarded more than $950,000 in scholarships, Andrea added. The school has grown from about 100 students in 2014 to more than 300 today. It employs only 15 teachers because it utilizes Yavapai College professors, and those salary savings help cover college tuition. AAEC is located near YC’s Prescott Valley campus so students can walk to YC classes.

AAEC chose to expand to Prescott Valley in 2011 after starting up in the Phoenix metro area in 1997. It now runs five high schools for high school students in the Phoenix area and one high school in Prescott Valley. Students don’t need to focus on agriculture; they are required to take only one agriscience class. But the extra agriculture opportunities attract students interested in careers in the veterinary, animal, equine, and ag science fields. The school grounds feature six horses with a barn and arena for horsemanship classes, as well as a greenhouse, orchard, and archery blind. And AAEC just added a mountain biking team.

Rachel calls Andrea and fellow AAEC Executive Assistant Taryn Espino the “Campus Moms.”

“I’m a single mom of three, so I very firmly believe in the village,” Taryn said. “We know everybody here.”

Andrea says her door is always open to students who want to hang out or talk. “I view this campus as a family campus.”

To learn more, visit https://www.aaechs.com/campuses/prescott-valley/index.

Rachel now plans to major in psychology and become a high school abuse counselor – although it’s also crossed her mind to become an AAEC teacher because her teachers and Campus Moms had such an impact on her life.