By Holly Desrosier
Craven Community College’s (Craven CC) Early College program began the school year Aug. 1. The innovative high school program has been nationally recognized and plans to continue on the path of excellence, due in part to an array of college resources that promote student success.
Established through a partnership with Craven County Schools in 2006, the Early College program is divided into two branches. Craven Early College (CEC) is housed on the college’s New Bern campus, while the Havelock campus is home to the Early College of Eastern Applied Sciences and Technology (EAST), or ECE.
The comprehensive five-year program combines the high school and community college experience to bring students an accelerated learning environment. Graduates earn a high school diploma with an opportunity to earn an associate degree or several transferable college credits. This enables graduates to enter a four-year university as a junior, if desired.
Since students are taking on the role of both a high school and college student, there is clearly a heavier workload and greater responsibilities. However, these higher expectations have not hampered the Early College students over the years. The graduation rate has averaged 98.3% over the past six school years, and several students obtained more than one associate degree while others earned a degree and a certification.
Both CEC and ECE were recognized on Jan. 17 as one of 13 schools in the district that met or exceeded academic growth goals during the 2017-18 school year. CEC was recognized for a 100% graduation rate for three years in a row, and ECE received a certificate of achievement for an outstanding graduation rate of 97.3%. The U.S. News & World Report has also recognized CEC as a bronze medal high school in its national rankings.
Todd Bradley, principal of CEC, doesn’t see this success waning anytime soon. “We plan to continuously improve our processes and our instruction through the engagement with the Cooperative Innovative High School and Research Triangle Institute next generation design principles through our professional learning communities,” he said.
The student-teacher ratio averages 17 to 1 at the two Early Colleges. This helps build relationships and confidence in the classroom and enables a more personalized experience. In addition, there is no cost for classes or textbooks while students are enrolled in the program. This is especially beneficial for students who may not have the opportunity to attend college without such assistance.
Nathan, a “super senior” in his fifth-year, will graduate with an associate in the arts degree in spring 2020. He feels the Early College has been a positive step his life. As one of four children, the cost savings has been an incredible advantage.
“It’s a really good deal on saving money,” he said. “College books are really expensive, and we’re super lucky to have them paid for.”
A contributing factor in the program’s prosperity is Bradley’s faith in his staff and his willingness to give them creative freedom to lead professional development.
“We are all lifelong learners, and we approach our craft in this way,” said Bradley. “The combination of benchmarking with other schools and trusting your professionals within allows your school to continue positive results for students.”
This has definitely worked to the school’s advantage: students overwhelmingly report that they feel at ease with the teachers, which greatly benefits the learning environment and students’ capability to flourish academically, as well as personally and professionally.
“Teachers are really cool there, and you get a good education,” said Nathan. “And it’s not just schoolwork; they help you with real-world stuff, like how to do taxes and handshakes.”
While the Early College does not offer any sports teams like traditional high schools, it does have plenty of clubs and extracurricular activities to keep students engaged outside of the classroom. Existing groups include CEC Runs, in which students participate in running and high-intensity interval training (HIIT) workouts; CEC Competitors (intramural/board games); coding; Future Business Leaders of America; Junior Civitan; National Honor Society; Outdoor Adventures; Science Olympiad; Student Union, which plans several CEC events like open house, fall carnival and prom; Students in Christ; and yearbook.
New clubs instated this year include art, culture, dance/glee, debate, drama, Gay-Straight Alliance and yoga. Most clubs are a result of student requests. Since many students do not yet drive or have any means of transportation after school, students are allotted time every other Friday so they can participate in clubs of their choice without worrying about not being able to attend.
In addition to academic acquisitions, students also remarked on the many great friends they’ve made at the Early College. The tightknit atmosphere results in a strong sense of fellowship between students and staff. In fact, while normal high schoolers gather in homeroom for roll call at the start of the school day, Early College students begin their day in “campfire”—it’s similar to homeroom, but it includes fun team-building activities that develop character, friendships and an affinity for learning together. Students also visit destinations such as the Kennedy Space Center, the Animal Kingdom and Epcot to learn firsthand about animals, helping the environment and how to be an effective leader.
Jessica Vargas, math instructor at CEC since 2016, believes the Early College offers a truly unique experience. She witnesses its constructive effects on students each day.
“CEC is definitely like a big family,” she said. “Students laugh and joke with each other, but I don’t see bullying the way I do in other schools. Our school seems to be a bit of a safe bubble where all those differences don’t seem to matter. We also have a house system that helps students bond in smaller groups and across grade levels in friendly competition with other houses.”
Indeed, CEC mirrors the Hogwarts experience in Harry Potter by holding a “sorting ceremony” for freshmen on the first day of school. Each freshman is then selected to join a “house” with which they remain for the rest of the program. This gives the students a sense of belonging as they embark on what is often an isolated, unfamiliar path of newfound independence.
“Because of the gradual release into the freedom and responsibility of college classes and the many supports we have in place for our students, they tend to have another transition into four-year programs,” Vargas added. “We are grateful for the opportunities that our relationship with the community college affords us.”
The availability of Craven CC’s many resources has been a major asset to the Early College program. Students have access to the college’s tutoring services, college and career advisors and the Godwin Memorial Library, as well as free rein of the campus after their first year. Bradley attributes a large portion of the program’s success to the partnership with Craven CC.
“I would definitely spotlight our partnership with Craven Community College as one of our strengths that supports our student success,” he said. “The college’s Executive Leadership Team and the advising team under the direction of Ms. Zomar Peter provide a network of communication and guidance that helps everyone involved with Craven Early College High School.”
Nathan echoed this sentiment, crediting college resources as a big factor in his accomplishments.
“It helped out big time,” he affirmed. “I went to tutoring every day for math and wouldn’t have passed without that. The library is also really helpful. It has computers and books and provides quiet study areas and homework spots.”
Early College students aren’t the only ones with access to Craven CC’s resources: The Godwin Memorial Library is open to the public. With over 15,000 books, 1,200 DVDs, internet access and numerous nooks to read and relax in the recently remodeled space, the library has a lot to offer. Call 252-638-7272 or visit it on the second floor of Barker Hall on the college’s New Bern campus for more information.
Craven CC students also have access to the library, as well as financial and academic advising, tutoring and counseling services. Call the admissions department at 252-638-7430 or visit one of the college’s helpful staff members on the first floor of Barker Hall to get started on an academic journey today. It’s never too late to learn.
This article was originally published in the New Bern Sun Journal on Sept. 4, 2019.