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Home, Sweet Home

AHOSKIE – Home at last!

Despite having to actually reinvent itself following one failed attempt to launch, the Hertford County Early College High School (ECHS) program is up and running…and, finally, operating within a remodeled facility.

On Tuesday afternoon, local education officials, joined by several special guests as well as a representative from the Golden LEAF Foundation, dodged the raindrops to make their way to Jernigan Building on the Roanoke-Chowan Community College (RCCC) campus where the ECHS program was formally dedicated.

The program, years in the making, is a partnership between RCCC and Hertford County Public Schools (HCPS). Its mission is to allow Hertford County High School students to obtain their regular diploma as well as a two-year college degree over a five-year time frame. The program, which started in August of last year, began with 53 ninth graders. Plans are to add 50 freshmen per year for a total of 250 students by year five.

“We’re excited to have this program on our campus and the students are excited about what they can achieve,” said Wendy Ruffin-Barnes, chair of the RCCC Board of Trustees. “We’re looking forward to taking this program to the next level.”

Ronald Baker, chair of the Hertford County Board of Education, said the ECHS program was very unique.

“Education is no longer a cookie-cutter process; what works for one group of students doesn’t work for another group,” Baker noted. “This early college program meets needs that have not been met before. It is a fantastic asset to Hertford County and our public school students.”

Johnnie Ray Farmer, vice-chair of the Hertford County Board of Commissioners, praised the partnership between RCCC and HCPS.

“This joint venture is a blessing, “Farmer said. “Our children are in good hands and so is the future of their education.”

The two local leaders throughout the process – RCCC President Dr. Ralph Soney and HCPS Superintendent Dr. Michael Basham – offered praise to the budding program.

“These (ECHS) students have brought new life to our campus,” Soney said. “This process has been a labor of love, but we are happy to have this program on our campus.”

“We’ve had some ups and downs with the program, but we’ve learned a lot along the way,” Basham noted. “This program is still a work in progress. In the end it’s all about one thing –fulfilling the educational needs of our children.”

Shirley McMahon, ECHS Education Coach, offered praise for Soney and Basham, saying, “They had a vision and were committed to this from the very outset. This is a wonderful program.”

Just how “wonderful” is the ECHS program? The best way to discover that answer is through the students. ECHS Principal Teresa Howington-Vaughan introduced a pair of ECHS freshmen – Shalay Garcia and Jonathan Jones – who revealed the impact the program has made on their young lives.

“This is the best thing that has happened to me,” Garcia said. “I love ECHS; we learn things our way. It’s a place where failing is not an option and achieving is everything.”

“ECHS is great for me,” Jones stressed. “I feel I will accomplish all of my goals. ECHS is preparing me for the real world.”

Golden LEAF, who provided nearly $1.4 million in grant funding to help launch the ECHS program, was recognized at Tuesday’s ceremony. ECHS Liaison Juanisha Vaughan-Hart presented a special plaque to Courtney Mills, representing the Golden LEAF Foundation.

“Golden LEAF is a very proud partner in this community and county,” Mills said. “This project was very important. We’re happy to be a part of it and we’re looking forward to coming back and attending the first (ECHS) graduation in 2013.”

Following the remarks, the crowd made its way over to RCCC’s Freeman Building, which now houses the ECHS program, where a ceremonial ribbon-cutting was performed.

The move into the renovated Freeman Building took longer than anticipated. Work was originally scheduled for completion when the 2008-09 school year began in August. However, the renovations, which came with a price tag of nearly $500,000, were not finished until November.

In the meantime, the ECHS students used RCCC’s Freeland Building for their program until moving into the Freeman Building earlier this month.