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Pitt County Early College High School begins third year

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Hannah Tyler looks down at her syllabus for the STEM research class during the first day of the Pitt County Early College program Tuesday, Aug. 8.

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By Sharieka Botex
The Daily Reflector

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

WINTERVILLE — Selena Chavez-Gutierrez was nervous when she entered Pitt County Early College High School as a freshman two years ago.

“I was scared because everybody would be like, ‘Oh, it’s a lot of work,’” Chavez-Gutierrez, now 16, said. “I would focus mainly on my academics and do everything I could to maintain my A average.”

By her sophomore year, Chavez-Gutierrez's stress went away because she knew what she needed to do. Now entering her junior year, where she will take pre-calculus trigonometry, French, English, computers and music appreciation, Chavez-Gutierrez is happy with her decision.

“My parents really wanted me to come here and I really wanted to come here because it was a great opportunity and it would give me a head start,” Chavez-Gutierrez said. “My immediate family, my parents didn’t finish high school and my sister didn’t go to college and neither did my brother.”

While Chavez-Gutierrez doesn't start classes until Aug. 17, she was on hand Tuesday to help about 180 freshmen and sophomores kicking off their school year in the Pitt County Early College High School located on Pitt Community College's campus. She helped students get their identification cards, organized files and helped out staff members.

"Students seem to be excited about being here and going back to school," said Wynn Whittington, principal of Pitt County Early College High School.

The high school, which is beginning its third year, allows students to simultaneously obtain a high school diploma and associate's degree.

The school's enrollment will grow to 225 when juniors return on Aug. 17, when the community college's school year begins, Whittington said. Juniors mainly take college courses so their school year follows the community college calendar.

Freshmen and sophomores started early in order to balance the state requirements that students receive either 185 days attendance or 1,025 instruction hours while working around the community college schedule.

"We like this calendar because we do exams before Christmas whereas (in) traditional high school you take exams in January after you have been home for two or three weeks for Christmas break," he said.

In Early College High School students can take college-level chemistry, Spanish, English, math and other courses, he said. Juniors can explore different majors and careers they might want to pursue, Whittington said.

There are many ways students can accelerate through high school and college; taking extra courses, virtual public schools, even Pitt County Schools Virtual Academy, Whittington said. “What makes us unique is we have those same opportunities; however, we do it with small class sizes," he said. "We get to know our students on a personal level and build relationships. Because we are small, we really get to know our students and support them not just academically but socially, emotionally and physically.”

The school’s staff consists of Whittington, 10 teachers, a school counselor, a college liaison who is a Pitt Community College employee and an office manager.

“Our teachers teach all the high school curriculum and the college instructors teach the college courses,” Whittington said. “We bring two faculties together. Our liaison is instrumental in that because she works with the high school side and the college side as well. She brings the two parties together so we are unified in our approach to make sure these children are successful.”

Although the school does not have sports teams, students can participate in intramural sports at PCC, Whittington said. Close to a dozen students have been on PCC's cheerleading team, he said. The school also offers extracurricular activities like prom, yearbook and drama club. Students are able to start clubs if they have an adviser, he said.

The only cost associated with the school is a $10 fee that they would pay at any other school in Pitt County, Whittington said. Otherwise all expenses, including textbooks, are covered, he said.

Chavez-Gutierrez still occasionally struggles with stress when she thinks about her family's expectations, but said she knows the school is a good thing because of what she wants to accomplish.

“The school helps me out because if I need extra help in a class or a subject then I can come to one of the teachers for help,” she said. “The administration helped me out a lot because if I need extra time to stay after school, they can arrange that.”

Chavez-Gutierrez said other students should apply.

“We are all family and we all here to help each other for anything,” Chavez-Gutierrez said.

Contact Sharieka Botex at 252-329-9567 and sbotex@reflctor.com. follow her on Twitter @ShariekaB. 

Innovation Early College High School 

Today the application for the Innovation Early College High School will be sent to the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction, Travis Lewis, spokesman for Pitt County Schools, said. 

The Innovation Early College High School is a small public high school that will be located on East Carolina University’s campus. The ECU school will serve students in ninth through 13th grade. Lewis said student recruitment and applications will not begin until after December of this year.

East Carolina University on June 28 approved the memorandum of understanding for the school, Lewis said. 

The plan is to start with about 55 ninth graders in the fall of 2018, Lewis said.

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