The University of North Carolina Board of Governors approved a collaboration between high schools in Pitt County and ECU during its meeting on March 23, allowing high schoolers to get an early start to their college education.
The Innovation Early College High School is a five-year program that allows first-generation college applicants to graduate the program with a high school diploma and up to 60 hours of transferable college credits, according to a press release from ECU News Services.
Provost Ron Mitchelson said during the past few years, Pitt County Schools’ Superintendent Ethan Lenker and his team have been great to work with, and ECU has made a concerted effort to enhance its partnership with Pitt County Schools.
“This will be a tremendous benefit for the high school students as they earn college credit while attending high school. In addition, the emphasis in the new high school will be innovation which complements our own campus culture of innovation and entrepreneurship,” Mitchelson, who also serves as vice chancellor for academic affairs, said.
Mitchelson said among other activities, ECU has worked closely on early literacy, establishing a lab school and are now “pleased” to add the Innovation Early College High School to that list.
Jennifer James, principal of the IECHS, said the IECHS’ first day will be Aug. 8, where 55 selected freshman applicants will gather together for classes being held in the Bate building.
James said she will be taking on both the role of principal and assistant principal of the IECHS.
“The main job is to make sure the school runs effectively and efficiently and that the kids’ demands are being met,” James said. “We have a partnership with Pitt County Schools and East Carolina University and what we are looking to do is try to help bridge the gap between high school and attending university and college for underserved students.”
Pitt County’s Board of Education Chair Mildred Council said Pitt County students can graduate in either four or five years, with the option of extending their high school experience by one year. She said students would primarily be taking all college courses at ECU, and in the end, receive both a high school diploma and an opportunity to earn up to up to 60 hours of transferable college credit.
“These high school students, I feel, will be experiencing an opportunity of a lifetime because they are being exposed to an institution of a higher education early,” Council, who represents District 2 on Pitt County’s BOE, said. “This really will initially prepare them for the 21st century.”
According to James, these students may be first generation college students or at-risk students, such as those who may be in foster care, have a low socioeconomic status or have a deceased parent. She said she and the members of Pitt County’s BOE aim to serve students who would benefit from an accelerated program.
“You know, you could be a really smart, really bright student, but the traditional high school setting is going to hold you back a little bit,” James said. “The idea is that through picking those types of students and serving those types of students... you will be able to meet their needs and provide them with an accelerated program.”
Sharon Kibbe, director of PCS Early College High School, said the idea for the program came in late 2015, when Pitt County and ECU came together and decided to put together an early college high school which would be located on the campus of ECU.
She said the proposal had to go through a lengthy approval process and the BOG was the final approval.
“The application process is a long process, so we developed the application last spring and summer and then it had to be submitted to the Department of Public Instruction and that was a big step. It also had to go to Pitt County Board of Education, so there's several steps that it has to go by,” Kibbe said. “Then the Department of Public Instruction has to approve it and then they present it to the state Board of Education after (the) Pitt County Board of Education has approved it, then the ECU Board of Trustees had to approve it, and finally the Board of Governors was the final approval that we needed.”
Council said IECHS students and their families will be saving money off of tuition payments for their future years at college by going through the Pitt County school system first. She said for the students at ECU, who will soon be sharing their campus with Pitt County IECHS students, this is part of the innovation they are doing for the first time.
“It shows that ECU is reaching out into the community by trying to branch the educational gap for those that may not have this opportunity otherwise and so it’s really a win-win,” Council said.