When 17-year-old Isaiah Tunello walks across the stage at his high school graduation ceremony in May, he will have already received his associate degree from San Jacinto College. In addition to his degree and high school diploma, he'll also have two congressional nominations from Congressman Randy Weber (TX-14) to the U.S. Military Academy at West Point and the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy.
This is what student success looks like as an early college high school student.
The Clear Horizons Early College High School senior believes that a life of service has always been in the cards for him. With his father a Harris County Sheriff's Office deputy and his mother a special needs education teacher, helping others is part of his DNA.
"Growing up, my parents really instilled in me the value of helping others," said Tunello. "They raised me to always look for opportunities to pay it forward and help out in the community. My uncle was also in the Navy, so he's been a great role model as well. Being of service to others has just always been a big part of who I am."
Military service runs in his family as well. Besides his uncle, his great-grandfather served in the U.S. Air Force. Tunello wants to carry the torch and be the first in his family to attend a U.S. service academy with additional service as a military officer.
"This is a way for me to give back to this country and everything it's done for my family and I," he said. "My parents immigrated here from the Philippines, and I was fortunate to be born here. We've all worked really hard and accomplished a lot, so I just see this as the best way I can say thank you while continuing to better myself through education and serving others."
Last November, Tunello organized a donation drive for low-income families impacted by COVID-19. He contacted area social workers to find out which schools in Clear Creek ISD would benefit most from supplies donated and worked with local leaders to secure Veterans Memorial Stadium in League City as the venue for donation drop-offs. Additionally, he received sponsorships from local restaurants to provide discount coupons as incentives to encourage community member donations.
The event was successful and was also covered by KTRK ABC 13. Donations — including PPE, canned goods, drink items, and hygiene items — were distributed to Clear Creek ISD's Campbell Elementary and Brookside Intermediate and the Galveston County Food Bank.
Tunello also credits a lot of his drive and determination from being an early college high school student. In 2007, Clear Horizons Early College High School was established at San Jacinto College in partnership with Clear Creek ISD. The first of what is now eight early college high school programs at the College provides high school students the opportunity to complete their associate degree and high school diploma simultaneously.
"Clear Horizons has been a game changer," he said. "It's given me great leadership opportunities, such as an internship with a military member and being selected to participate in Texas Boys State. It is great for any student who is willing to put in the work. Being in a smaller setting, you get to know everyone, and you build great relationships with your teachers and professors, which helps when you need letters of recommendation for college applications and jobs. You really can't go wrong going the early college high school route."