Polk early college opens in new building

Published 10:00 pm Tuesday, August 19, 2014

TOP PHOTO Early College 2
By Claire Sachse
Last week marked the opening of Polk County’s Early College in their freshly remodeled
new location on Hwy. 108 near the entrance to Polk County High School.
On Wednesday, students toured Western Carolina University and on Thursday they
unloaded trucks containing supplies, books, furniture and equipment. Friday was spent
organizing their belongings in their personal study carousels, known as “offices,” and
getting to know new students.
“We’re regrouping from the summer,” said Britney Pierce, 15, as she and others talked at
their desks.
Each of the 69 students has a desk and chair in their office workspace, which they can
decorate and stock with supplies as they choose. Students use a school-issued laptop for
their online classwork and to connect with Isothermal Community College.
The students have been curious throughout the summer as they watched construction and
remodeling progress on their new building.
According to Early College Director Mary Greene, the school outgrew the space in their
former location, the old library in Columbus, after seven years. When students were
asked for their design ideas for the new building, they said they liked the community
feeling and togetherness of a large common area.
When the new school was conceptualized, plans included a cafeteria, four large
classrooms, offices, and an open, high-ceilinged, light-flooded, workspace.
“This is their space,” said Greene, about the sunny study room with an atrium-feel. “At
any given time, students could be taking 50 different classes right here,” she added.
Modeled on the New Schools Project, the Early College gives students the opportunity to
graduate high school with a diploma and an associate’s degree, or a diploma and some
college credits. Last year, five students graduated with a diploma and an associate’s
degree, and four with a diploma and some college credit.
The school is geared toward several types of students, according to Greene, including
those who will be first generation college students, those who are at risk of not
completing high school, or those who “don’t want the drama of high school.” Also,
Greene says that there are students who want to work ahead and have flexibility in their
progression through courses. “Some classes will have eight or nine kids,” said Greene, “and they’re able to move more
quickly [through the material]. We call it ‘rigor and vigor’ and when they get to college
they’re not shocked by the work load.”
The majority of teachers at the Early College have master’s degrees in order to teach the
higher-level courses, according to Greene.

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