‘Gateway’ program helps Baraboo student work toward diploma, college degree

February 21, 2019

Baraboo High School student Anthony Borkenhagen went from disengaged and often truant to a “model student” now on track to earn both a high school diploma and an associate degree next year through a Madison Area Technical College program.

Once skeptical of how the program would work, BHS counselor Kathy Thornburgh said Borkenhagen is her “best success story in 32 years of education.”

“He’s a huge success,” she said. “I think Anthony didn’t believe at first either that he could accomplish all this, and he’s just done an amazing job.”

At 20 years old, Borkenhagen has faced more barriers to his education than most students, especially after becoming addicted to drugs at 11.

“The environment around me wasn’t all that good,” Borkenhagen said. But he worked to get clean two years ago with the help of a treatment counselor and group meetings. “I had to change who I was talking to, and that’s made a really big difference (academically).”

Thornburgh, witnessing Borkenhagen’s change in attitude when others might have given up, helped him explore his options to earn a diploma, which she knew “he badly wanted.”

A representative from Madison College recently introduced Baraboo administrators to the Gateway to College program, which offers dual credit for students ages 16 to 21 — likely those who dropped out of high school or who struggle in a traditional high school. Madison College’s Portage campus became the first regional campus to offer the national program, though it has existed at the Truax campus in Madison for the past five years. Baraboo signed on last fall.

Participating students can earn college credit while simultaneously completing their high school diploma requirements in Gateway. That dual purpose, plus the prospect of being a college student, appealed to Borkenhagen.

“I think it’s just cool that I can graduate with college credits and then go from there,” he said.

Since taking classes five days a week at Madison College, he’s found the environment makes a difference, too — his classmates there have chosen to pursue their education. In his first semester in Gateway, he earned a 3.25 GPA and made it into the National Honor Society.

The program has built Borkenhagen’s confidence, Thornburgh said, noting that many students hesitate to pursue higher education if they struggled in high school. Being able to earn both college and high school credit will make him want to continue his education because “he’s proven that he can do this,” Thornburgh said.

Borkenhagen is on track to receive his Baraboo High School diploma in January. Six months later, he plans to have an associate degree from Madison College. And after that, he’s considering applying to the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

He doesn’t yet know what field he’ll eventually go into, though his father’s work as a chemist intrigues him. Thornburgh said he’s open to many things.

“It’s kind of neat to see,” she said, “because I think four years ago, you know, he was just hoping to get through the day.”

She hopes Borkenhagen will show other students that they, too, can succeed. He has offered to speak with students about his experience and encourage them to join Gateway — a method that might make them more likely to listen than hearing from an older adult.

“The program is just an awesome opportunity for students to get their life back on track,” Borkenhagen said.

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