Published 12:00 am Thursday, August 25, 2011

By Sarah Campbell
SALISBURY — Seniors Leslie Bean and Winne Wang chose to attend the Rowan County Early College when it opened four years ago because they wanted a different high school experience.
“I just think it’s a better opportunity,” said Bean, who would have attended South Rowan. “I figured it would be less drama and more focused on academics.”
Both girls said the program also was alluring because of the ability to earn college credits from Rowan-Cabarrus Community College while still in high school.
“I liked the idea of getting an associate degree by the end of my four years of high school,” said Wang, who would have attended North Rowan.
The girls are just two of the 44 students who make up the Early College’s first senior class.
“It’s exciting to finally get to see it all come together,” Principal Cindy Misenheimer said Wednesday. “What they’ve done is absolutely amazing. There will not be a single one of them who will leave here without college credits and it hasn’t cost them a penny.”
Misenheimer said the focus now will me making sure students stay on track to receive both their high school diploma and college credits.
“All it takes is really one thing to get them off track and the next thing you know they’re not graduating from high school,” she said.
The Early College, geared toward first-generation college students and populations that are underrepresented in colleges, is located in Building 200 at Rowan-Cabarrus.
“We teach very differently from the traditional high school,” Misenheimer said.
Misenheimer said the students spent a good amount of time reading and writing. And teachers focus on 21st century skills, as well as critical thinking.
“We talk about and read about things you wouldn’t normally touch in a typical high school,” she said.
Bean and Wang said they are excited to be part of the first graduating class.
“I feel accomplished. I feel content,” Bean said. “I feel like I’ve finally made it.”
Wang said at first it was challenging to be in classes with college students as a freshman in high school.
“I think it’s gotten easier to fit into a college classroom,” she said. “I know how to balance it out and do the work.”
The workload at the school is “tremendous,” according to Misenheimer.
“We tell kids to be prepared to do two hours of homework, and we’re not talking about worksheets,” she said.
Wang said the school has helped her be better prepared for college. She hasn’t decided where she wants to attend, but she’s planning to pursue a career as a neurosurgeon.
Bean said the course load has given her an idea of what life might be like after graduation. She’s hoping to attend Liberty University and possibly major in Biblical studies.
Misenheimer said another plus for the 244 students who attend the Early College is the smaller class size.
“Here I feel like we are all family and I feel like if I were to stumble there would be someone to help me up,” Bean said. “They give us birthday cards on our birthday every year. I don’t think traditional high schools even know when your birthday is.”
Misenheimer said students who are interested in an innovative approach to education should consider the Early College.
But she said it’s definitely not for everyone, including those interested in athletics and arts like chorus and band.
“If you want a challenge, you want a different type of education and you are willing to do the work, this is your place,” she said.
Contact reporter Sarah Campbell at 704-797-7683.