(WEEK) -- It is a big weekend for those in their final year of high school and college, as the caps, gowns and tassels are out for graduation in Central Illinois.
And a special group of high school students is celebrating in more ways than one, as they are set to receive both a high school diploma and an associate's degree.
"It's honestly kind of surreal because now, I'm 17 and I'm a junior in college. It's always kind of a shocker when I tell people that," said Ciara Trimble-Roddy, who graduates from Richwoods High School and earns an associate's degree from Illinois Central College.
15 students from Peoria Public Schools and nine from Unit 5 will receive the two separate honors.
It is all made possible by partnerships between school districts and local community colleges which allow high-achieving students to take college courses while still in high school.
"We're continuing to provide more and more opportunities for our students to accelerate," said Dr. Sharon Desmoulin-Kherat, superintendent for Peoria Public Schools. "This is just one other opportunity around acceleration."
"I'm really excited to be here, finally," graduate Brady Veal said. "The last 4 years have been an amazing journey and it feels so good to finally celebrate my achievement today."
Students say the head start gets them more than prepared for their post-high school experience.
And local education leaders agree the program is beneficial for students who are capable of handling it.
"It is absolutely amazing. You know, there is a data out there that students who are advanced sometimes struggle in high school as much as students who are running behind, because they are ready for more and they can't have it," ICC president Sheila Quirk-Bailey said.