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Pitt County Early College High School holds ribbon cutting

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Mildred Council, Board of Education Chair, District 2, tours the new Early College High School at Pitt Community College, Friday morning.


By Ginger Livingston
The Daily Reflector

Saturday, August 11, 2018

WINTERVILLE — As it completed its first week of classes, Pitt County Early College High School paused on Friday morning to formally celebrate the opening of its new home on the campus of Pitt Community College.

Officials with Pitt Community College and Pitt County Schools held a ribbon-cutting ceremony at the early college high school. Classes were canceled so students could line the sidewalks leading to the building and greet ceremony participants. They later led guests on tours.

“It’s such a joy to see this building,” said Pitt County Schools Superintendent Ethan Lenker. “We started this project about a month after I got here. Dr. Dennis Massey (the college’s recently retired president) came to me and said, ‘What do you want to do?’ I said, ‘I want to build a early college (high school).’”

Lenker said Massey returned six months later and said the school could open.

“Six months after that he said, ‘Let’s give them a real building,’” Lenker said.

The 13,000-square-foot facility includes eight classrooms, a multipurpose room, cafeteria and offices. The majority of freshmen and sophomore classes are taught in the building — civics, chemistry and biology are held in nearby Charles Russell Building — while juniors and seniors attend most of their classes with Pitt Community College students.

The early college high school opened four years ago, Principal Wynn Whittington said. It is now in the 5 percent in growth, exceeding or meeting learning expectations under the state’s assessment system, and reached 86 percent proficiency, a standard that demonstrates students are gaining the knowledge and skills they should during a school year.

Whittington said the school also was one of the four state finalists for the National Title I Distinguished Schools program which recognizes schools that hold students to high standards and “demonstrate exemplary school effectiveness.”

“Those accomplishments are directly attributed to all the students, staff and all the support network that you see standing here today,” Whittington said.

The school has 275 students enrolled, 73 freshmen, 74 sophomores, 63 juniors and 62 seniors, Whittington said. It expected 25 seniors will graduate at the end of the 2018-19 school year.

Although early college high school model allows students to earn their high school diploma and associate’s degree in five years, the 25 seniors took extra courses and are graduating a year early, Whittington said.

Adajia Branch, 17, of Winterville, is one of the achievers. She is scheduled to graduate with two associates degrees — one in arts and the other in science.

Branch, who also is the school’s student government president, want to earn a four-year degree in criminal justice, work as a detective and earn a law degree. She eventually wants to be a district attorney.

“It’s a big change going from a trailer to a building and a lot of students love it,” she said.

The lack of space sometimes made studying in the modular units difficult, said Branch, who was among the first students to enroll three years ago.

“It was a little cramped and it got muggy really easily. However it felt outside is how it felt inside,” she said. “It didn’t stop our learning. It just kind of made it a little uncomfortable to be sitting is such tight spaces.”

Branch, unfortunately, will not be spending a lot of time in the building because all but one of her classes are college courses held in PCC buildings.

“I’ll be over here, just not as much as the other students,” she said. “I have a lot of empty space in between classes so I can still be over here.”

Branch is talking about the “Wolves Den,” a supervised setting where students work on homework and other assignments and socialize.

“This building, there is natural light,” Whittington said. “I’m not an overhead light type of guy. Sunlight in general makes people happier and just having that open feeling, the classrooms are larger and with lots of windows it makes the classroom look even bigger. I just think it makes it more conducive to learning.”

Branch said she would encourage students to join the Pitt County Early College High School.

“It’s a great opportunity,” she said. “Not only do you get free college but you are surrounded by a family-like environment where all the teachers know your name, all the students know you. (The teachers) really care about you education, they are not just there to teach you, they really care about you.”

Branch said she has found this is true not only among the early college’s teachers but the community college’s instructors.

The new building cost is $3.5 million and was was funded in part with $2.6 million from a $19.9 million bond approved by Pitt County voters in 2013.

The bond initially was supposed to fund only the construction of the Walter and Marie Williams Science Building and the purchase and renovation of a building for Basic Law Enforcement Training. When bids for the Williams building came in lower than expected, Massey proposed using the $2.6 million for the early college high school.

The Board of Commissioners approved the change in early 2016. The remaining costs were funded by Pitt County Schools and the community college.

The building was designed by JKF Architects. Daniels & Daniels Construction was the contractor.

No county commissioners attended Friday’s ceremony. Members of the school board, PCC’s Board of Trustees and state Sen. Don Davis participated in the ribbon cutting.

Contact Ginger Livingston at glivingston@reflector.com or 252-329-9570.