Story by Erika Pedroza

Christian Garcia may be a sophomore in high school. But the 15-year-old from Irving High almost has a full semester of college under his belt. In fact, he earned college credit as an eighth grader at Johnson Middle School a year-and-a-half ago. 

He was recognized as the first student in recent school history to earn the prestigious AP Scholar distinction as a freshman, following his performance on Advanced Placement exams last spring as a ninth grader. To be named an AP Scholar, students must earn qualifying scores of 3 or higher on three or more Advanced Placement exams. 

“We have a great and challenging GT program that does allow our GT freshmen to take AP courses, like human geography. But even then, it’s very difficult to earn this distinction until the end of a student’s sophomore year,” says Randall Winter, who has taught at Irving High School for 11 years. “This year may be the first year ever that we’ve had a student that earned AP Scholar distinction at the end of their freshman year. It’s definitely not happened in my tenure.”

Christian earned qualifying scores of 3 on his AP Human Geography and AP Spanish Literature exams and also earned a 4 on the AP Spanish exam in middle school.

“I knew [earning AP Scholar distinction] could be a goal that I could reach, and I thought it would look good on college applications. But I didn’t know the requirements to reach it, so I wasn’t really striving for it,” he says. “I just knew that it was good to take AP classes. It’s a big title, and to have it early gives me that much more opportunity to build up more college credit.”

Each qualifying score can equate to up to six hours of college credit. Christian is enrolled in three AP classes this year (Biology, English Language and World History) and plans to enroll in others his junior and senior years. If he keeps pace, he could essentially earn the equivalent of an associate’s degree through AP courses by the time he graduates high school. 

It’ll be a jumpstart for Christian, who wants to attend college and pursue a career in the medical field or in computer science. 

Given his success, it might be surprising to learn Christian admits he hasn’t quite mastered the skill of studying.

“I try to go to Saturday sessions, and I study when I have a big test. But studying is a habit that I haven’t really picked up,” he says. “I know I will eventually. But I feel like if I focus too much on school, I’d burn myself out. I think it’s important to have ‘you’ time, free time.”

For Christian, that includes extracurricular activities – UIL Spelling and Vocabulary and playing the trombone in the band – as well as spending time with his family (his parents, natives of El Salvador, and his two brothers), who are the driving force behind his success.

“My parents have always been big on education,” he says. “College is the central focus. You have to go to college. They really built my character on academics being important. And my brothers – they are also doing well in their classes. My brother is also in GT classes, so I want to be an example for both of them. I want to do really good so they can see they can do really well, too. That’s a thing I always strive for.”