Mt. SAC Early College Academy: Safe, small and exclusive

A hidden gem for those ready to shine


Mt. SAC Early College Academy website.

Tucked away off Rio Verde Drive in West Covina, California, sits Mt. SAC Early College Academy, where students can earn college credit while completing high school.

Students who wish to enroll must have a minimum GPA of 2.0, no serious attendance or disciplinary issues and have a desire to take college level courses.

Established in 2018, the academy allows students in their sophomore year to start taking two years of transferable college credits for free that are taught by Mt. SAC professors.

“[The] state of California passed legislation that allows community colleges to create partnerships with public schools and public charter schools to have dual enrollment classes,” said Mt. SAC Early College Academy Principal Dr. Ryan McDonnell. “Through these agreements and contracts, both entities will take attendance … the state pays for the college classes [which] makes it free for the students.”

McDonnell has been in public education for 17 years. He began his journey as a teacher in the Los Angeles Unified School District, where later he would serve for 14 years at a public charter high school as a teacher, assistant principal and then principal. Then in the spring of 2022, McDonnell made the transition to work at Mt. SAC ECA.

To prepare ECA students for college courses, freshmen are enrolled in a College and Career Readiness course. The course exposes freshmen to the ardent but necessary skills of research techniques, public speaking, interview skills, job assessment, building a portfolio and writing a research paper.

To further enhance the experience, ECA has recently developed their science facilities and updated their science equipment to ensure students are in pace with the ever-evolving STEM curriculum.

Although the academy only has a small student body of 300 students, that does not affect the variety of extracurricular activities the school provides. The majority of the activities are student-led to offer a unique experience. Being a small student body, the family-like atmosphere allows students to develop relationships with both staff and fellow classmates as they grow in accountability and shared responsibility toward one another.

The partnership is an occurring theme at ECA as the faculty and staff build relationships with the Mt. SAC campus. Once ECA students obtain their Mt. SAC student ID, they will have access to campus facilities such as the library and the learning center.

Another area of partnership that ECA relies on is a strong parent-faculty relationship. The Wolfpack Academic Booster Club is composed of parents, classified staff and administration, and is a place where ideas are shared for improving the success of the student body and their enjoyment in a small but unique environment.

In addition, the well-being of all students is matched with four certified counselors to help address any mental health needs students may have. COVID-19 left its toll on society, but it also gave light and permission to young people to voice their concerns. The four certified counselors stand ready to meet any of those needs.

Mt. SAC ECA has much to offer despite being a small campus. High school students who are interested in having an early start into a college life should consider this option.

To describe the school in his own words, McDonnell said: “Safe. Small. Exclusive. We’re West Covina’s hidden oasis. A little gem.”