Early college high schools get earlier start to school year
By Kim Grizzard
The Daily Reflector
Tuesday, August 7, 2018
It's hard to say what Ke'Von Evans was most excited about — his first day of high school or his first day at ECU.
“It's a two-in-one experience,” Ke'Von, 14, said Monday as the Innovation Early College High School at ECU opened its doors to the first class of 55 high school freshmen.
In all, about 200 students at Pitt County's two early college high schools started their fall semester on Monday, three weeks ahead of students at the rest of the county's public schools. Seventy-four freshmen and 75 sophomores returned to class at Pitt County Early College High School on the campus of Pitt Community College. Most juniors and seniors will not head back to school until PCC classes begin Aug. 16.
Giving up a few weeks of summer vacation was a price Joslyn Russell was willing to pay for a chance to get ahead academically. Joslyn, would would have started high school at Ayden-Grifton later this month, opted for early college high school instead. After being accepted into programs at ECU and PCC, she chose Pitt.
“I like the idea of making the most of the next five years, being able to leave with an associate's degree and just do something more in five years than I could at an average high school,” she said.
Jazmine Warren, who finished eighth grade at Stokes School in the spring, also was accepted into both programs. While her sister, Chassidy, was a member of the inaugural class at Pitt County Early College High School at PCC, Jazmine opted to make her own history at ECU.
Innovation Early College High School Principal Jennifer James said many members of the school's first class welcomed the chance to be part of something new.
“They want to be leaders,” she said. “They want to create this opportunity and they want to be able to look back and say 'Hey, I had a part in that.'”
Pitt County ECHS Principal Wynn Whittington believes the opening of a second early college high school played a role in reducing his school's number of applicants this year. The school saw its lowest number of applications, 195, compared with 237 applicants its first year, 196 the second year and 212 last year. The school admits up to 75 students a year.
“In some ways, I guess we are kind of competing for students,” he said. “It's good (for students) to have a choice.”
Both schools target first-generation college students and those who are economically disadvantaged or have other circumstances that would make them at risk of dropping out of high school.
Innovation ECHS will offer students a chance to earn a high school diploma and as many of 60 hours of college credits. Pitt County ECHS offers students a chance to earn an associate's degree or up to two years' worth of college credits.
Both are designed as five year programs. But Whittington said nearly half of Pitt County ECHS seniors are poised to receive both their high school diploma and their associate's degree at the end of their fourth year.
Early college high school students begin with honors-level high school courses and transition into more college courses as they advance through the programs.
Jazmine, who won the “Determination Award” at her former school, feels ready, even if it means a school day that lasts until 4 p.m., followed by an extra-long bus ride home.
“I don't mind facing the challenges because I feel like it gets you further,” she said. “I had thought about it (early college high school) for the three years. I just thought it would be a great opportunity. It would open up my future.”
For early college high school students, planning for the future means giving up some school amenities in the present. Theses schools have fewer clubs, no band and no sports.
Ke'Von played football at Wellcome Middle School and was planning to play in high school until he got accepted at Innovation.
“It was a big sacrifice but I'm willing to take that sacrifice,” he said.
“My mom and my dad kind of struggled a little bit; I don't want that for me,” Ke'Von said. “I know that this will help me get to the position where I can be financially stable and I can have a good life. … I'm going to do the best I can to stay here.”