Courtney Castellow finished summer school at Pitt Community College on Wednesday, one day before classes at her high school were set to begin.
Pitt County Schools Early College High School welcomes students today to start the 2022-23 school year. For the most part, Courtney and other Early College High School upperclassmen won’t need to report to campus until their PCC classes resume on Aug. 18, but for freshmen and sophomores, summer break has ended.
Freshmen orientation was held July 28, when PCS elementary and middle school students were finishing summer school. The school district’s Transition to Middle and High School program is scheduled next week.
ECHS, which is beginning its eighth year, has the earliest start in the district and one that comes 25 days before traditional Pitt County Schools begin classes.
“We closely align our calendar with the college calendar so that we have the same breaks,” Principal Wynn Whittington said. “You have to start normally the first Thursday in August to get it all in before Christmas.”
Pitt County Schools Superintendent Ethan Lenker has said he would like an earlier start date for all the schools in the district, but that is not a decision that can be made on the local level. A state law enacted in 2005 and amended in 2012 requires traditional public schools to start no earlier than the Monday closest to Aug. 26 and end no later than the Friday closest to June 11.
While Innovation Early College High School also gets an earlier start (Aug. 8) to align with East Carolina University, attempts to get a waiver from the state that would allow the entire district to begin earlier have been denied.
Start dates for public, private and charter schools, which some years fall relatively close together, are all over the calendar this year. (See accompanying list.) Each week in August, a different school is welcoming students to begin a new academic year.
At ECHS, no one is complaining about being the first to return. Students and parents crowding the hallways at Tuesday’s open house were happy to be there.
“I was pretty excited to start school,” freshman Esmeralda Luciano said as she waited with friend Kimberly Rodriguez-Cruz to meet one of their teachers.
Neither seemed to mind that their summer break was fewer than 60 days, while many of their peers will have almost 80 days of vacation. It’s the kind of sacrifice the two, who attended Farmville Middle School last year, said they were willing to make to get an early start on college.
Julius Bazile of Wellcome Middle School said most of his close friends would be attending North Pitt High School this year, though he knows at least one upperclassman at ECHS.
“I had a better opportunity as far as my academics,” said Julius, who plans to pursue an engineering degree.
His mother, Luckeisha, said her youngest child had to weigh athletics and social aspects in his decision, which she believes was the right one. The district’s early college high schools do not have sports teams.
“We actually talked to him a lot about this option,” she said. “You only get this option one time; you either take it now or you lose it forever.”
Courtney, who previously attended A.G. Cox Middle School, is glad she took this option five years ago, although she recalls being terrified at the start.
“It’s a completely different environment than a traditional high school,” said Courtney, a fifth-year senior who is set to complete her associate’s degree in architecture at PCC by spring. She is one of 44 so-called super seniors at ECHS.
She also is one of 17 student ambassadors who traditionally accompany Whittington to area middle schools to present the option of Early College High School. Since the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic, those presentations have been conducted virtually, which Whittington believes is a factor in ECHS receiving a smaller number of applications this year.
“They’re a lot better salesman than I am; they’re living it every day,” he said. “That’s what I hope to get back to.”
The school, which has 330 students, received about 115 applications this year for 75 seats in the freshman class. Still, it is a competitive process, based on factors including academic performance, an essay and an interview.
Both the county’s early college high 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.
“By you applying, we ask you to come. We invite you to be a part of our school family,” Whittington said. “I think that’s the mindset, ‘These people saw something in me maybe even that I didn’t see in myself. They want me to be a part of this school.’ So they’re excited about that.”
Whittington said students at his school have a strong work ethic and have no problem beginning in early August, even though some of their peers have another three weeks off.
“They want to be here,” he said. “They compete to get here, so once they get selected they can’t wait to start.”