One of the first of these initiatives was the Surry Early College High School of Design, a type of hybrid between college and high school in which students would enter as high school freshmen and, at the completion of the five-year program, hold not only a high school diploma but also an associate’s degree from Surry Community College.
This fall, the first class to attend the Early College will begin their fourth year at the school, technically making them high school seniors. At its retreat on Friday, the board heard testimonials from Tanner King and Nichole Stephens, two students who were a part of that initial class, on their experiences thus far.
For both of them, the advent of the Early College created a high school experience that is drastically different from that of a traditional high school and they thrive in that environment.
“At the Early College, we have all the good stuff from the regular high school and none of the bad stuff,” said King. “My leadership skills are a lot better. My ambitions have increased. My writing has went up big time. Being able to work in a college science environment has led me to want to pursue a career in science. We’re able to hit our target and then from there be able to shoot far above our target.”
“There’s no cliques in our school,” said Stephens. “If I was in a regular high school, I think things would have been hard for me. I would probably slack in my achievements.”
The ability to graduate with an associate’s degree without having to pay the college tuition offers broader opportunities for students who may not be able to afford four years of college, or even in some cases two years at a community college. This was true for King when he applied to the school and a big factor in his decision to attend. With the skills he has built and the experiences he has gained, he now hopes to attend a university for two years to complete a degree in science.
Both students praised the Early College and the strides it has made towards helping them attain a better education. Even as board members questioned the continued closeness of the school as it grows with another class added each year, the students explained that they make an effort to get to know each new class as well as remaining close to their peers.
“I really feel like it’s the way education in America needs to start moving in general to be globally competitive,” said King.
Senior graduation projects have been at the center of many debates since the state legislature decided to make them mandatory to graduate from a North Carolina high school. Recently, that decision was overturned, leaving the decision up to each school system. Surry County already had the foundation in place to implement the program and decided to stick with it to see the outcome.
Stephanie Niten, a student at the Early College, is well on her way to completing her project and shared her experiences with the board.
She started on the research paper portion of the project her freshman year, choosing to take on dog training as her topic of interest. During her junior year, Niten found a dog to train and has been working with her mentor to train the dog to sit, come, stay and heal, among other commands.
“I just tried to pick what I love doing. You can teach an old dog new tricks. I’ve proved that wrong,” she told the board of her project.
She noted that at first she saw it as just another project to complete as part of school. However, as she worked on it and got more in-depth, she realized that there is actually a point to completing them and sees them as a good initiative to stick with.
“Once you get into it, it teaches you more than a regular project,” she said. “I think I’d still do it. If you give them a chance to see how much fun it can be, I don’t think they’d mind doing it at all.”
Entrepreneurship has become a bigger factor in the school system with the advent of Project Youth Entrepreneurship Surry, which encourages students to start their own business. Kara Collins, a rising 10th grader at North Surry High School, has already begun her own bakery known as the Sweet Tooth Bakery. Collins hopes to attend the Culinary Institute to learn more about cake decorating.
Since Collins began Project YES as a freshman, she will keep the mentor she has found through her graduation project, allowing it all to tie-in. She picked up her skills set on her own and has been baking for about one year without formal training. So far, she has made her own birthday cake as well as a clover cake for 4-H.
Karlie White, though she is not part of Project YES, has taken it upon herself to begin her own bakery as well.
White is a rising fourth grader at Dobson Elementary School and runs Karlie Lou’s Sweet Shop. She bakes cookies, muffins, cakes, brownies and many other sweet treats which she sells through handing out flyers at her church and to her friends as well as by word of mouth.
She likes to cook with her grandmother and makes up many of her own recipes. Her mom helps her put the goods into the oven so she does not get burned, but White keeps up with the cost of groceries as well as the profits she brings in. She is saving up to buy a Dell laptop and Christmas presents for needy children. She even created her own price list according to how much each ingredient costs.
Easing the transition for students from eighth grade into ninth has become one of the main focuses of the Surry County School System over the past couple of years. A plan was put into action last fall with the opening of the North Star Academy at North Surry High School. Throughout this past year, administrators at the school have monitored data concerning attendance records, course failures and discipline referrals and have seen marked improvements among the freshman class.
“We can say with no doubt at all that the North Star Academy is a success,” said Assistant Principal Neil Atkins, who works to oversee the academy. “The close bonds and relationships we built with these kids got a lot of them to school.”
The task now will be to help those ninth graders transition to 10th grade. While they have had classes in the rest of the building and have not been contained in one wing of the school, they have had advisors who touch base with them regularly and ensure that they are doing their best.
Four students who were part of the academy this past year were at the retreat to offer their insight into the program and how it helped them through their first year of high school. The four agreed that being part of the academy was beneficial because it gave them a connection to a core group of teachers and they grew to feel the teachers really cared about them and whether or not they were successful. They also appreciated being able to stay in one wing of the school for most of their time as it provided a sense of safety.
“Last year, in middle school, everybody thinks they’re cool,” said Taylor Newton. “In high school, you really have to start caring from the first day you get there.”
“The teachers here try to get to know us on a personal level. Any time they see us, they ask us how we’re doing. People think you’re going to be trapped in that part of the school the whole year but you’re not,” said Mark McKeithan. “People say being on your own is a lot better and I’m looking forward to that. But, I like the teachers’ help.”
The students feel that their experiences at the academy have been beneficial regardless of the actions of others. Newton was not excited about the idea, but now supports the school.
“They’re jealous,” she said of the upperclassmen. “I thought it was going to be stupid, but I actually enjoyed it.”
As part of the initiative to expand programs to help with the transition to ninth grade, Surry Central High School and East Surry High School have created their own programs for freshmen entering the school this fall.
Surry Central has created a plan with three components. The first is the summer bridge program in July, which will allow students to get a future ready course credit before school even begins. This will be in addition to freshmen orientation, which will take place in August just before school begins. At orientation, students will be able to tour the campus, find their classrooms and meet teachers.
An advisory program will also be implemented at the school. Twenty-one teachers have already signed up to be part of this voluntary program. This will create a ratio of one advisor per 10 freshmen.
Surry Central also plans to establish an academy for 30 to 60 at-risk students who have already been identified. These students will be together in the four core courses, allowing teachers across disciplines to work together to target their needs. Principal Kevin Via believes that targeting this particular audience will improve the numbers of discipline referrals and course failures for the entire freshman class as nothing is done for this group of students now.
The staff believes that the academy is not necessarily segregating the students as they will not be in one wing, however it will give them a slower start to high school which may help them to succeed.
East Surry has implemented plans in previous years to help ease the transition and hopes to increase those efforts this year. The school began offering an alternative schedule for ninth graders about four years ago, offering some courses for a full year instead of just one semester. This makes the classes 45 minutes each instead of 90 minutes, which is good for those with shorter attention spans.
The Cardinal bridge program is also in place for certain students selected based on academic, behavioral or attendance issues. The program offers these students the opportunity to earn a course credit over the summer while adjusting to high school.
A freshman mentor program was implemented last year with upperclassmen acting as mentors for the freshmen. This year, 39 sophomores, juniors and seniors have been selected to participate. These mentors will meet with the students and their homeroom teachers during orientation. Camp Cardinal is an orientation program for all freshmen which takes place in August.
The school has also looked into making physical education classes and health classes single sex to allow everyone to participate as well as to allow health discussions to be more open.
East Surry is also looking to establish an academy to target certain students. They will be scheduled so that they are all in the same classes.
Both East Surry and North Surry are hoping to keep students from realizing they are a part of these academies.
“I’m happy to hear East Surry and Surry Central are doing something to make the transition easier for freshmen,” said Michele Hunter, board member.
Contact Morgan Wall at firstname.lastname@example.org or 719-1929.