A bus was late, the first-day-of-school schedule at Lenoir County Early College High School was scrambled and the start of the assembly for freshmen and sophomores would be delayed. Principal Diane Heath was unfazed.
“First day, things happen,” she said Monday as she waited to formally welcome the 100 or so underclassmen gathered in a small auditorium on the campus of Lenoir Community College, where Early College is housed. “You deal with it.”
She had reason to be relaxed, even optimistic. Monday was her 29th first day of school and her third at Early College, so she’d seen her share of surprises. Her entire staff, including all nine faculty members, returned from last year, so her team was in place. And the students – notwithstanding the first-day jitters among some of the 47 freshmen – seemed excited and ready to get started.
“Work hard, do your very best, do what needs to be done,” she told them. “All of this starts now. The clock starts ticking. It all begins with you making sure you stay focused with your work and making sure you seek the help you need when you run into some difficulties. We want to remain the No. 1 school in the county in test scores. We want to remain on top. How does that happen? With you, the students, studying and doing the best you can. We’re here to help.”
In her audience was Shanauria Hassell, 14, a freshman who got to school an hour early. She had waited in a classroom, at a table with a few of her former classmates from Rochelle Middle School, as other underclassmen filtered in.
“I’m ready see what it’s about,” she said. “I’m just looking forward to see what each teacher’s going to be like.”
As an eighth grader last year, she faced a choice – Kinston High School or Early College. The presentation made at Rochelle during an Early College recruiting stop sold her. “Early College seemed to be the right place for me,” she said. “They offer smaller classes and tutoring after school, so if I need help, it’s here.”
At Early College, operated in partnership with LCC and on the college’s calendar, students follow an accelerated learning program to earn a high school diploma and complete an associate degree in either four or five years. Because the Class of 2018 was the largest graduating class in the school’s 10-year history and because many more of them finished the dual enrollment program in four years, this year’s student body is smaller than usual at 189 students.
Shanauria’s class is a little larger than last year’s group of freshmen and is drawn from middle schools across the county, as well as charter schools, private schools and homeschools.
Nazir McIver, another 14 year old from Rochelle, was steered to Early College by the recommendation of a cousin who came from Rochelle and graduated from Early College. “She told me the teachers are there for you and it’s a small environment and so you know everybody,” Nazir said. He expects his time at the school to provide “a better opportunity for my career in business,” he said. “I’ll have an advantage graduating with an associate degree.”
In their first semester, freshmen stick to a standard high school curriculum – English, math, history – but with one extra wrinkle. Freshman Seminar, a course revived his year for new students, tries to instill in them the study skills they’ll need as 16-year-old college students.
“We’re going to teach them note-taking techniques, we’re going to give them a planner and talk about organizational skills, we’re going to do reading comprehension skills,” said David Jenkins, who’s curtailing his time in science class this semester to teach Freshman Seminar. “We revived it because we met with the college staff and asked them, Where are our students lacking?”
On the first day, however, the focus for the principal is as much on logistics as it is on learning. “We’re making sure our students are comfortable, that they’re where they need to be and have what they need,” Heath said. “We’re just making sure everything is running as smoothly as possible.”
It’s a close, caring environment, exactly what Shanauria Hassell expected after her three-day freshman orientation last week. This is what she learned there: “I learned you don’t have to be afraid,” she said. “We’re all here as one. Just get to know each other and have fun.”