Day One, Year 10 – a mix of freshman jitters, upperclassman confidence and anniversary excitement.
Lenoir County Early College High School opened the 2017-18 school year by welcoming 45 incoming freshman and helping second-year students began their transition to college courses offered by Lenoir Community College, where Early College is housed.
“We’ve had a very smooth day,” principal Diane Heath said Monday morning. “The kids are excited, the staff is excited. We’re excited about this school year and the things our kids are going to accomplish.”
When LCPS and LCC partnered to launch Early College in August 2007, they changed the opportunities – and expectations – for high school students in Lenoir County. Hundreds of graduates later, this non-traditional school has created a tradition of its own: a highly motivated student body taking advantage of a chance to earn a high school diplomas and a tuition-free associate degree in four or five years.
Its dual-enrollment model has proved so successful that it’s spread to LCPS’s three traditional high schools, and with such popularity that LCPS students account for about a quarter of LCC’s enrollment.
But Early College students, from incoming freshman to seniors poised to graduate, find the high school’s appeal as much in its atmosphere as in its academics.
Diana Leon-Lara knew older friends who’d enjoyed the early college experience, so as an eighth grader at Frink Middle last spring she decided to start her high school career in a more intimate setting.
“I felt like I would get a better education at Early College than at a traditional school,” she said. “I felt like it was going to be a little more peaceful – less drama – and I’d make more friends.”
Carla Torres agrees. “There’s drama everywhere you go but here you solve it quickly because we’re a family,” she said. “It’s a smaller place.”
This year’s enrollment totals 208 students, and the class that graduates in May will number less than 40. A fourth-year student, Carla expects to be among them, receiving her high school diploma one night and two associate degrees – in arts and in science – from LCC the next night. “I want to get a bachelor’s in nursing and maybe go into the armed forces and be a doctor,” she said.
A team leader at last week’s three-day orientation for Diana and other freshmen, Carla led tours and related her experiences at school. She doesn’t sugarcoat the demands of accelerated learning.
“It’s been kind of hard, but I’ve made friends,” she said. “That’s the most important thing. You can study together, take classes together and that way you can struggle together. Whenever you need help, you can just go to a teacher and they’ll lend you a hand.”
For all practical purposes a college student, Carla begins LCC classes next week. In their second year, students like Ainsley Stox of Kinston and Rose Loera and Tamiya Hutchins of La Grange typically wrap up their high school courses and move into the college curriculum a course at a time.
Tamiya and Rose, both 15 and former Frink classmates, decided to try Early College after hearing a recruiting presentation as eighth graders.
“I didn’t really want to go to a traditional high school,” Tamiya said. “I wanted to do something different.”
Neither has been disappointed, especially after a successful freshman year. “The teachers and my classmates, they were the best. We would study together. When I asked teachers questions, they had a lot of patience,” Rose said.
“It’s more fast-paced than other schools, which I like,” said Ainsley, 16. She came to Early College from Woodington Middle, but said she set her sights on Early College as a fifth grader. “I’ve always known I wanted to be a lawyer and I figured this would help me get into a good school.”
History – even that written over a relatively short 10-year span – says Ainsley’s right. Each year about two-thirds of Early College graduates go on to four-year colleges, most of them with a two-year head start on a bachelor’s degree. Early College regularly paces LCPS high schools in graduation rates and academic achievement and last year was named one of the nation’s best high schools by U.S. News & World Report.
When Lenoir County Early College High School formally celebrates its 10th anniversary with a program on August 17, it will pay homage to its beginnings and to the promise of the students just now settling into classes.
“This is the 10th anniversary, and we’re excited,” principal Heath said. “We’re very pleased at how far Early College has come and where we’re headed.”