“This is your moment babies, enjoy it,” said Michael Groce.
Groce is a teacher at the Yadkin Early College, and his affectionate remark wraps up what the school is all about: family.
The inaugural graduating class of the Yadkin Early College walked the stage on May 11 at Peace Haven Baptist Church in Yadkinville.
A total of 47 students accepted their diplomas, many accepting both a high school diploma and an associate’s degree from Surry Community College.
Yadkin Early College started five years ago. It is one of 76 early colleges in the state. Its purpose is to predominantly reach out to high school students who will be first-generation college goers and in financial need.
The first class was to be made up of 50 students, and Principal Tracy Kimmer’s job was to recruit a special group of academically driven students to attend.
“I asked myself what does Starmount and Forbush not offer that a 14-year-old would want; I came up with: they can wear hats, have their cell phones and chew chewing gun,” Kimmer said. “I know that sounds silly but we had kids with their hats on, on their cell phones and chewing five packs of gum at a time.”
Once the first year began, the school had 49 students, Principal Kimmer, a guidance counselor and two teachers; none of which had a background in teaching high school education. Kimmer and the other staff members had all worked in middle schools prior to their new positions.
“That was sort of the point; it was the reform movement,” Kimmer said. “We didn’t want high school people coming in and just doing what they had done previously.”
The first year the school offered yearlong classes, but as time went on the staff realized that they would need to switch to a block schedule that would allow for semesters. The second and third year the school gradually transitioned, and by the fourth year all classes were taught in semesters.
What sets Yadkin Early College apart from traditional high schools is that students have the opportunity to earn a two-year associate’s degree if they stay for five years.
“Within the first three years the students can have their core high school classes completely done,” Kimmer said. “What they would do at a traditional high school is take electives to try to find out what their career was going to be; here you take college classes.”
The college classes typically consist of core classes that are required of college students in order to move into a specific degree. All of these classes are available to the students at the Surry Community College Yadkin Center.
Students at Yadkin Early College also have the option to take more career specific classes by commuting to the Surry Community College campus in Dobson.
Another difference between Yadkin Early College and traditional high schools is that students play a major role in the decision making of the campus. When meetings are held about policies and goals, students are included.
“This school was just built off of what works among the students, the staff and it’s really been a great joy of mine to help bring everything together,” said Paul Rogers, graduate and valedictorian. “All of the students are the foundation upon which the school was based off of.”
The teachers and administration have seen the benefit of student input as well.
“The students are so actively involved in the decision making process we bring them in the loop in regards to how we run the school. It’s been a real nice thing to see,” Groce said.
The staff also feels that the students at the early college are more accepting of other students and more prepared to move on to a four-year colleges than their traditional high school counterparts.
“I tell kids when I’m recruiting that at 14-years-old I wasn’t mature enough academically, I wasn’t mature enough socially and I thought I was going to be a football star so this place wasn’t for me,” Kimmer said. “But for so many other kids it’s the right place.”
Kimmer said that students give up activities like sports, band and theater to put their focus on their academics.
The classes are chosen through a recruitment process and Kimmer is required to select a diverse group of students from various ethnic backgrounds. The one thing that all students must possess is a desire to learn.
“We take all kinds of kids but they have to be an academic achiever,” Kimmer said. “It’s somebody who is passionate about learning, somebody who is willing to take the time to open the book and study. The ones that I see succeed at the highest levels are the academic achievers who are willing to come in here and take advantage of the program.”
The students of the freshman class of 2012-2013 have already been selected and Kimmer says that 12 of those students are siblings to existing students; something that Kimmer feels is a testimony to the success of the school.
“It is a school family and 100 percent of the success is because of the students that decided to come here and the staff members that work here,” Kimmer said.
Reach Lindsay Craven at 679-2341 or at email@example.com.