DALLAS – The time is running out to enroll students in Dallas Independent School District’s Specialty and Choice school programs for the 2018-2019 school year.

One academy, in particular, offers students free access to college. However, some Dallas ISD staff members said enough eligible students are not taking advantage of the unique program, especially in southern Dallas. The staff is working to turn that around.

As the school bell blares through the halls of James Madison High School, some students are rushing to class, while others are busy focused on their professors.

There is a purpose behind the sense of urgency in this wing of the high school. The freshmen and sophomores talking classes in this area, are in one of Dallas ISD’s Collegiate Academies.

“We are like our own little family,” said Crystal Henry as she walked the hall.

Henry is from South Dallas. She is among students in James Madison’s Collegiate Academy. The students are focused on tackling high school and college courses at the same time.

“Having the opportunity to go to college for free is like amazing,” Henry explained.

Dallas ISD has been changing the school choice game. It is offering many students opportunities to earn an Associate Degree, professional certifications, and up to 60 college credit hours upon graduation -- all for free. And it’s possible through Collegiate Academies at two dozen campuses across the city of Dallas.

Henry said both of her parents went to college and stressed the importance of continuing education with their children. The teen said she wants to stay ahead of the game and help reduce the financial burden of pursuing a career in nursing.

"College isn’t free,” Henry said. “You hear other people talking, they’ll be like, I have so many loans to pay, and it costs so much to go to college.”

Administrators are calling Dallas ISD’s Collegiate Academies “game changers.”

Chantil Goree is Collegiate Assistant Principal at Madison High School. She and her team have found success recruiting students to its intimate class settings and access to college professors, both at the high school and on Dallas County Community College campuses.

"Collegiate academies have saved the day for many students," Goree said.

However, Dallas ISD staff members said enrollment, especially among African American students, could use a boost at some other Collegiate Academies across southern Dallas. They said on some campuses, enrollment numbers in the program are not as high.

"When we brought the collegiate academies to schools in the southern sector, we brought it back to the community. We’re able to keep our kids in the community. Our students are comfortable here. This is where they live," Goree explained.

Students and staff are optimistic the enrollment trends will change as more families learn about access and opportunities collegiate academies are offering students and families.

"It makes you want to get out there and try new things," Henry said.

Dallas ISD is reminding families that the enrollment deadline for Collegiate Academies, special and Choice programs is January 31, 2018. Click here to learn more about enrollment in the Choice schools and special programs.