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HC students jump start education

AHOSKIE — It’s an environment enjoyed by teachers and students alike. A group of dedicated students in Hertford County have committed five years to high school that comes with a bonus – they will also receive two years of college credit while earning their high school diploma. On an average day in the Hertford County Early College High School, students began their morning in special interest sessions around the campus. In each classroom, students were able to ask questions about their homework or anything they don’t understand about a lesson they have been working on. “Special interest is geared toward the End-of-Course testing areas,” said Crystal Phillips, instructional specialist for the Early College High School. “One way or another, every student divides into those groups.” When Dr. Michael G. Basham, superintendent of Hertford County Schools, and Community Relations Officer Ronald Gatling toured the school, the students were eager to answer their questions. As Dr. Basham asked one group what they were studying, every hand in the room went up. Gatling followed up with more intense questioning with each student again eager to answer. Phillips and Juanisha Vaughan-Hart, Roanoke-Chowan Community College’s Liaison with the Early College High School, said the sights were typical of an average day in the school. Wallace Johnson, a veteran educator who is teaching at the school, said he was pleased to be a part of the program. “It’s a different setting which gives the kids a broader opportunity,” Johnson said. “They have the chance to get out of the box and experience different educational opportunities. I enjoy it from that prospective.” The early college high school is a bold approach, based on the principle that academic rigor combined with the opportunity to save time and money is a powerful motivator for students to work hard and meet serious intellectual challenges. It is a blend of high school and college in a rigorous, but supportive program. Vaughan-Hart said the combination of the two studies was something she believed was truly beneficial to the students in the program. “I like that our students get the opportunity to achieve college credit which puts them ahead of the game,” she said. “When they leave here, they will be a junior when they transfer to a four-year college or university. “I think it also encourages students to seek a college degree instead of just earning a high school diploma and going to work,” Vaughan-Hart added. “They are already looking at the future, researching salaries and finding careers that interest them.” Vaughan-Hart said the fact the students at the Hertford County Early College High School are just freshmen and already looking to the future was a promising sign. Phillips added that there were already inquiries about the program for the next school year. “People are already starting to ask questions,” Phillips said. “They are excited about the possibilities we have here.” Though the program in Hertford County is in its first year, the concept has been used since 2002. During the past six years, early college high school initiatives have started or redesigned at 160 schools in 24 states and the District of Columbia. The school are designed so that low-income youth, first generation college goers, English language learners, students of color and other young people underrepresented in education can simultaneously earn their high school diploma and an associate’s degree or two years of credit toward a bachelor’s degree free of tuition. In Hertford County, 53 students are enrolled during the first year of the program and are learning a new system of education. Currently they are housed in classrooms in two buildings on the RCCC campus, but will be moving to the Freeman Building once renovations are complete. “This is going to be a nice place for our students when it’s finished,” Dr. Basham said. “We are pleased with the renovations.” The money for the building renovations was made possible through a grant from the Golden Leaf Foundation. Dr. Ralph Soney, president of Roanoke Chowan Community College, said he was pleased with the program and what he believed it held for the future. “I think it’s outstanding,” Dr. Soney said. “I think we’ve made a lot of progress and are heading in the right direction. The kids are the great benefactors of it. “I think in four years the community is going to be proud they did this,” he added. Dr. Basham said he was of the opinion the school is already making a difference. “The Early College High School has made a difference in those children’s lives,” Dr. Basham said.