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Hundreds attend RCCC's open house to learn about Early College program

By Steve Huffman
Salisbury Post
Several hundred people gathered Monday at Rowan-Cabarrus Community College for a pair of open houses concerning Rowan County Early College.
The open houses were aimed at rising ninth-graders, those who will be eligible to participate in the inaugural program when it kicks off this fall.
“It’s a new approach to high school,” Tim Foley, RCCC’s academic vice president, told the soon-to-be freshmen and their parents who gathered for the open houses.
Despite the relative novelty of Early College, Foley said other school systems across the state have experimented with great success with the program. He said some of the programs have been in place five years.
Early College will be a joint venture of the Rowan-Salisbury School System and RCCC. The 100 or so rising ninth-graders selected for the program’s first year will attend school at the community college.
Their high school years will be far different from those of traditional high school students.
Students selected for Early College will take all their classes at RCCC’s North campus. They won’t be affiliated in any form with the high schools they would have attended.
While extra-curricular activities will be planned and held as part of Early College, students interested in participating in activities such as sports or cheerleading should stay at their home high schools, officials stressed Monday.
When this fall’s freshmen graduate in four years, they’ll have as much as two years of their college education behind them, qualifying for either an associate’s degree or 60 hours of credit at a traditional four-year college.
Parents at Monday’s gatherings were shown a scale displaying costs for traditional colleges. They range from $2,500 per year at RCCC to $13,350 for N.C. State University and $31,490 for Catawba.
As Foley and others said, students accepted into Early College who commit themselves to the program can have behind them two years of college by the time they graduate high school.
“That’s going to save parents a pretty significant amount of money and, I believe, make students who transfer much better prepared for college,” Foley said.
Becky Smith, assistant superintendent for curriculum for the Rowan-Salisbury School System, noted, “Not every student wants to go through a traditional four years of college.”
For some of those students, she said, Early College makes for a perfect fit.
“We’ve designed a program to set you up gradually so you’ll feel comfortable before that full immersion process,” Smith assured students.
She said that no more than 100 students (all ninth-graders) will be accepted into Early College for the coming school, its inaugural year. Smith said that, typically, 60 to 75 students will be included in each class. The school will never include more than 400 students.
Transportation will be provided, though exactly how that will be arranged has yet to be decided.
Early College classes will start at 9:30 a.m. and continue through 4:30 p.m.
“Is anybody excited about sleeping in?” asked Gaye McConnell, vice president of student services for RCCC.
Her question prompted a round of laughs from the students and their parents at the first of Monday’s open houses.
Officials with Early College allowed parents and students an opportunity to ask questions at the conclusion of Monday’s open houses.
One of the chief concerns from parents seemed to pertain to the safety of their children, how they’d be managed on a community college campus.McConnell said safety had been a concern with Early College programs in other school systems, though the reasons for the fears typically wound up being unfounded.
“Most Early College programs have zero problems with this,” McConnell said.
“We haven’t had any problems with security and don’t anticipate any,” Foley said.
He noted that some high school students already attend RCCC through the Huskins Program and said none of those teens have experienced safety problems at the community college.
Another parent questioned funding for Early College, wondering aloud what would happen to students involved with the program should funding suddenly disappear.
Smith said that isn’t likely to happen.
“This is an actual school just like West Rowan High School,” she said.
Smith said the odds of the school losing funding and disappearing are almost nil.
“This is not a fly-by-night school,” she said.
Cindy Misenheimer, principal for Early College, said students in similar programs across the state typically become very close-knit.
“These children move through as a support group, so they’re very close,” she said. “I think the support is going to be there, which may be missing in a traditional high school.”
Applications for Early College must be submitted by March 20. Applications are available in the guidance offices of all local middle schools.
Early College is intended for:
– First-generation college students;
– Students who would not have considered college an option;
– Students for whom the expense of college is a barrier;
– Students who are looking for an alternative to traditional high school.
Rowan County Early College is a joint project of the N.C. Department of Public Instruction and the N.C. New Schools Projects. Money for the project also comes from an $11 million grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.
Contact Steve Huffman at 704-797-4222 or shuffman@salisburypost.com.

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