First graduation not far away

Feb. 16, 2013 @ 07:38 PM

Five years after Vance County opened the Early College High School, five teachers have been added, 245 students are currently enrolled, and 33 fifth-year seniors have plans to start college in the fall.

The Vance County Early College High School opened in 2008 with 70 students, reflecting demographics of the community in which the school resides.

“What I wanted was a good sample of Vance County,” said Principal Michael Bullard. “We look just like every other school in Vance County.”

While recruiting students for the school, Bullard searched for high need individuals that would not traditionally be successful in a college setting.

Of the 245 students in early college, only an estimated 30 are considered to be academically or intellectually gifted.

The environment of the school changes often, with ways for improvement always being sought by staff, and students’ academic level and ability naturally follows suit.

“The 13th-graders, when they came to us as ninth-graders, only 27 percent of them were considered proficient as part of their EOG’s,” said Maria Derivan-Campbell of end of grade testing. Derivan-Campbell is an English four teacher who’s been with the school since its inception.

“By the end of their ninth grade year it was like 87 percent,” she said.

Logistical changes also lead to betterment of the school’s environment.

“It’s a progression,” Bullard said. “We want to be better every year, so we’re always changing. We’re always making it better so you’re never going to see a stagnant year.”

At the early college, which is located on Vance-Granville Community College’s campus, freshman are immediately immersed in a college atmosphere.

Most students do not take college courses their freshman year, but are required to take a course detailing what college is all about, how rigorous the course work is and what they must do to be successful.

“Ninth-graders just take classes with themselves, and second semester some ninth-graders will venture out,” Bullard said. “By 10th grade they’re taking college classes with traditional students. We pull from professors all over the campus.”

In the school’s first year, Bullard quickly took note that ninth-grade students did not need to be taking classes across the campus, and away from where the school is centrally located.

“Our first year we had kids taking class on another side of the campus, which was a total mistake, and so we don’t do that anymore,” Bullard said. “Their ninth-grade year they stay up on the third floor so they’re not going all over campus.”

Transitioning students who enter the school as 13- and 14-year-olds to a college-like setting is often a challenge for both students and teachers.

“Jumping right out of middle school into classes with these grown people who are old enough to be your parents, that are asking you for help sometimes, that’s kind of like everybody’s main problem,” said Dantavious Hicks, a fifth-year senior who will be graduating this spring with an associate degree.

Hicks was able to adjust to the school’s fast pace and stringent work schedule largely through his relationships with teachers.

“Teachers are almost like your best friends,” Hicks said. “I feel like you can go to them and relate to them, ask them anything whenever you need help and they will be there for you.”

In the fall Hicks plans to attend Howard University, with hopes of becoming a family physician.

“It gave me a huge head start, and turned out to be a major difference when it came to applying to schools,” Hicks said. “They see that you already have experience in dealing with college work. It’s definitely an advantage.”

Jairus Miles is also preparing for graduation, and the green light to head to college at Winston-Salem State University.

Miles learned quickly that when it comes to college professors, they leave concern for academic success fully in the hands of the student. 

“Transitioning right out of middle school into the college scene, you don’t have people to push you,” Miles said. “Your college professors, they don’t push you like your regular high school would. That’s probably the biggest problem I had.”

While Miles was faced with challenges at the early college, he learned to overcome them. When he hits the road for Winston-Salem State this fall, he will become the first person in his family to attend college.

“I’m the first and only one so far to actually attend college in my entire family,” Miles said. “It’s a big step.”

Success at the early college is cultivated through student-driven learning with a strong emphasis on relationship building.

“It’s a lot of project based learning,” said Derivan-Campbell. “The kids are given guidelines, but the end product is up to them, so we try to foster some creativity, some critical thought, some ownership.

“That’s important because they have to have a level of maturity in order to go out and mix in the college population.”

The early college has been a school of distinction for four years. In May they expect to graduate their first 45 students, 25 of which will have already obtained an associate degree.

Contact the writer at amauser@hendersondispatch.com.