07/03/11 — Duplin extending early college concept throughout whole county

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Duplin extending early college concept throughout whole county

By Aaron Moore
Published in News on July 3, 2011 1:50 AM

KENANSVILLE -- Some might say college isn't for everyone, but Duplin County school officials are at least going to make their students test the waters first.

Starting this fall, all five Duplin County high schools will implement an "early college" program that will not only give students a taste of college, but allow some to complete associate degrees before graduating high school.

Dawn Craft, spokeswoman for Duplin County schools, said the new system will get students excited about college from a younger age.

"Twelfth grade is no longer a stop sign," Ms. Craft said. "That's no longer going to be the message they get from us."

The change will involve a combination of getting students to take college-level classes at James Sprunt Community College, bringing James Sprunt professors to high schools and setting up virtual classrooms.

Starting this fall, Ms. Craft said no one should leave a Duplin County high school without at least some college experience.

"If you start them there and they taste that success, they think, 'Gosh, I can do this,'" she said.

Other school officials are in agreement.

"We must provide (students) with the expectation that the goal is no longer to earn only a high school diploma," said Superintendent Dr. Austin Obasohan. "The goal is college for all."

Obasohan said he disagrees with the idea that college isn't for everyone. Instead, he said college can't be defined as "one size fits all."

And with the new early college program, Ms. Craft said Duplin County students will have a variety of college options before them.

They can earn associate degrees and begin working after high school graduation, or they can enroll in a four-year institution with two years of credit under their belts.

And if they decide college really isn't for them, Ms. Craft said, at least they will have given it a shot and have some experience.

The point, she said, is to make sure the options are there.

"We're going to do everything we can to make sure if someone wants to go to college, they can," Ms. Craft said.

Part of the new system will also include introducing students to college at younger ages and amping up their academic rigor.

Beginning in pre-kindergarten, students will "adopt" a college in their classroom, writing letters and emails to their colleges and wearing college T-shirts on select days. The goal, Ms. Craft said, is to make students familiar with at least six universities by the time they leave elementary school.

"For whatever reason, our kids aren't having college talks at home," she said, adding that the new system will create a "college-going culture" in schools.

Officials said they decided to implement this plan after they saw a model of it at a high school in Hidalgo, Texas.

Ms. Craft said the Hidalgo high school had a graduation rate of 98 percent with more than 95 percent of graduates earning some form of college credit upon graduating. She also said 89 percent of Hidalgo's students come from economically disadvantaged backgrounds.

The lieutenant governor's deputy chief of staff, Kimberly Reynolds, said she was excited about Duplin's new plan, adding that it "goes hand in hand with Gov. Perdue's vision."