By Sarah Campbell
SALISBURY — McKenzie Eury wasn’t ready to leave Governor’s School when the six-week program ended last week.
“It was like a totally different world and I really wish I could just stay in that world,” she said.
The rising Carson High School senior, who attended the school’s theater program, said there was never a dull moment. And without tests or grades, the pressure was off.
“We were all learning for the sake of learning,” she said. “People were just itching for knowledge.”
Eury was one of 600 students from across the state who participated in the 48th annual summer enrichment program for intellectually gifted high school students. The school offers academic and arts courses at Meredith College in Raleigh and Salem College in Winston Salem.
She dubbed it the “experience of a lifetime.”
That explains why she said it was “heartbreaking” to hear that budget cuts could lead to the school’s demise.
State lawmakers slashed the $849,000 annual funding for the program in the current budget. “It is shocking that they would take away something so influential and so important,” she said. “I wouldn’t want to think I was the last generation to be able to have that experience because it was so meaningful.”
Without funding it would cost students $2,100 to attend the school. The program has historically been free, but a $500 fee was charged last year when the budget was trimmed from $1.35 million to $849,000.
Josh Price, a recent North Rowan graduate, said he wouldn’t have been able to participate in 2010 if tuition had been that expensive.
“Forget it … I couldn’t come up with that kind of money,” he said.
And Price said if he hadn’t attended the school he probably wouldn’t be going to Georgia Tech this fall. Instead, he would likely be attending his second choice college, North Carolina State.
He said being exposed to his intellectual equals challenged him to set big goals.
“It taught me that chasing dreams is what you should be doing instead of staying conservative,” he said. “Don’t be afraid to push boundaries.”
Supporters have stepped up to donate more than $154,000 in an effort to ensure Governor’s School will open next year.
Earlier this month, the State Board of Education challenged program advocates to raise at least $100,000 by August.
“We’ve already beaten that goal in nine days and expect to hit $200,000 very soon,” Roice Fulton, vice president of the N.C. Governor’s School Foundation, said.
Despite exceeding the $100,000 goal, the fate of the program remains in the hands of the State Board of Education, which is set to meet Wednesday.
State Superintendent June Atkinson has recommended discontinuing the program “until such point that we can have adequate funds to support its offering to students across the state.”
Atkinson has said she would like to see the program run without requiring tuition so that any student can attend despite economic status.
It would cost an estimated $1.5 million to run the school tuition-free for 800 students.
But Fulton said he thinks a compromise can be reached with the state board to keep the school alive next year.
Fulton said the next step is raising enough money — about $500,000 — to secure contracts with Salem and Meredith colleges.
“Losing those contracts could very well mean a death blow for Governor’s School, as it will be very difficult to restore momentum after losing a year,” he said.
The Foundations’ long-term plans include partnering with charitable foundations, businesses and other organizations throughout the state to sustain Governor’s School, Fulton said.
“We’re hopeful that our continuing efforts to reconnect with alumni, as well as maintain Governor’s School awareness and conversation throughout the state and national will bring us to where we need to be for 2012 and beyond,” Fulton said.
Although the Foundation is raising private dollars to help see the program through tough times, supporters acknowledge the importance of a partnership with the state.
“The ultimate goal is to restore full funding to Governor’s School, for 400 students per campus, without need for tuition,” Fulton said.
Price said it’s vital that the program be supported by public funds.
“The heart of Governor’s School is a public initiative,” he said. “With it being publically funded anyone who has the ability can go.”
Alumni still fighting
Eury knows one thing for sure about the future of Governor’s School.
“By all means it is definitely worth the fight,” she said.
Leigh Beth Lytle, who attended Governor’s School for English this summer, agrees.
The rising West Rowan senior submitted a letter to the editor about her experience. It was published in the Post on July 19.
She also wrote a letter to the State Board of Education to information them how valuable the program is for students.
Lytle said when she heard that Governor’s School was in jeopardy of shutting down she was upset and began looking for ways to keep it open.
“I knew that this was such a unique experience that I was so lucky to be at,” she said. “I had already thought of a few people I hoped could attend next year and it saddened me that they might miss out on this experience due to lack of funding.”
Governor’s School alumni Desere Cross, a Salisbury High grad and student at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, also stepped up to help.
She signed a petition in favor of keeping the school open and urged others on campus to do the same.
“I don’t think they’ll ever be a program to match Governor’s School, it’s one of a kind,” she said. “It’s really awesome because it’s such an engaging and intellectual environment.”
Contact reporter Sarah Campbell at 704-797-7683.
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