NewsBLESSING FOR MY FAMILY: Bladen Early College High School...

BLESSING FOR MY FAMILY: Bladen Early College High School offers unique prep experience

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In these hard times we now live, what parent would not be interested in saving a potentially huge chunk of change in their child’s college education?
If so, perhaps they should consider the educational option of Bladen Early College High School. It is one of approximately 115 early colleges in North Carolina.
“This is a hidden gem in Bladen County,” said Chris Carroll, who has taught at the school since its inception in 2018.
This accelerated high school program — which offers educational opportunities for rising ninth graders in Bladen and surrounding counties — operates as a partnership between Bladen Community College and Bladen County Schools.
“Students will complete their high school diploma and be eligible to earn certificates, diplomas or degrees at the college level in order to achieve their goals in the workforce or academics,” the school states on its website. “Students in the early college program will experience a community college learning environment, different from that of a traditional high school. Student potentials and interests will be identified and nurtured early in their high school years.”
Bladen Early College is sequestered in the Louis Parker building, Building 17, just behind the auditorium, and Building 2 on the Dublin campus.
The current enrollment is 145 students in grades 9-12. The school’s first senior class — made up of 41 students who continue to travel through the hallways and classrooms after first entering the school since its establishment — will graduate in the spring.
While the seniors have six high school teachers, they have access to all the community college instructors on campus.
“It benefits the community, usually, and students and staff,” Carroll said. “We want you to come back to Bladen County after you graduate. We’re seeing some families are saving about $80,000.”
That would roughly amount to two years of four-year college tuition and the cost of college textbooks.
It costs nothing for the students to attend Bladen Early College.
“If you are going into a four-year college as a junior, depending on where you’re going, your freshman and sophomore tuition has been paid for,” said first-year Principal Susan Cheshire. “That’s pretty amazing because college tuition is not cheap.”
This concept pleases Alvin Shepherd, whose 17-year-old daughter, Kara, goes to the Early College. She’s a senior and member of the first graduating class.
“The first year was pretty tough,” he recalled. “It’s just getting used to that — going from a middle school mentality to that college mentality is what it amounts to.”
Kara was always “that very shy type. She always really kind of kept to herself,” he said.
When it was time for her to come out of Clarkton School of Discovery, Shepherd and his wife had concerns about her being so quiet and shy.
“To be honest with you, Early College came along and answered lots and lots of prayers,” he said. “She’s been able to come out of her shell. She still doesn’t like to get up in front of people, but she will now.”
Depending on where she goes, said Shepherd, Early College will have saved the family between $40,000 and $100,000.
Kara is seriously considering Western Carolina University or Campbell University for her final two years of college education. He said Western Carolina costs about $20,000 a year, so Early College has saved him approximately $40,000; admission is about $52,000 a year at Campbell, he said, so she has saved him about $104,000 by taking her first and second year at the high school.
At this point, his daughter wants to become a health and physical education teacher and coach.
That Early College experience, he said, has just been a blessing for his family.
“It’s very accelerated,” Cheshire said of the school’s course load. “They are expected to take all the high school classes that high school students take. You have teachers on staff who provide those. Then they trek out to the college for the college-level classes that they’re taking. It is a very heavy load. They’re tackling both worlds, and they have to balance it. And we work with them because the staff is so invested with the students and the school is so relatively small. We provide assistance to help them do that. We check them daily to make sure they’re not crushing under the weight of it or how we can help them adjust their load so they can go where they want to go. It’s a wonderful place to be. The teachers are phenomenal.”
There are some drawbacks, Carroll notes. There is no on-site athletic experience for students who attend — the school has no athletic programs. But a prom will be held, and students enjoy field trips.
Cheshire, a 46-year-old Bladen County native with a soft Southern accent, pointed out that various club activities include the areas of yearbook, drama, science olympiad, Beta and student government.
“We offer several clubs they’re involved in. We do things with those clubs,” she said.
Cheshire is a good example of someone who never left Bladen County except to earn her college degrees from the UNC Wilmington and Fayetteville State.
She graduated from Bladenboro High School in 1993.
Cheshire started work at Bladen Early College in October. Former Principal Rodney Smith took a position at the county schools office as the exceptional children’s director.
“It’s a lot to learn. The past 13 years of my my administrative career have been in elementary school,” said Cheshire. “I have been at Dublin Primary School for the last 13 years.”
She pursued her post as principal here because of the distinctive format of the school.
“That’s one of the main reasons that I chose it — it is unque,” she said. “It’s challenging; it’s innovative. The students here are amazing. That has been my favorite part, meeting the students here and hearing their stories. And why they’ve chosen this format for their own learning. And that’s part of the reason why the uniqueness was a big pull for me.”
According to the school website, “The Bladen Early College High School will focus on both college transfer degrees and CTE certificates, diplomas, and degrees. Our program will offer four curriculum pathway opportunities to support student attainment in an associate in Science degree, Industrial Systems Technology-Machining, Allied Health and Information Technology. These curriculum pathways will further promote a development of a workforce to be able to support future job opportunities in Bladen County and the surrounding areas.”
Students are selected based on recommendations from current eighth-grade teachers in middle school. Students also must submit an essay about their aspirations. All this goes to a review board at the Early College.
”Not that we’re looking for the best of the best,” Cheshire said. “We’re looking for those students who are looking to be first-generation graduates or have aspirations for the workforce. Or have aspirations for a four-year college where we can give them an opportunity to graduate ahead of the game. We can get them certified to enter the workforce or that want to go to a four-year university. And we can get them ahead by helping them graduate with an associate degree and enter a four-year university as a junior.”
Cheshire said what really makes the school unique is the offer of a certification program in any area that Bladen Community College has available for its students. The institution offers 73 programs. So it’s not just an associate of arts degree from Bladen Early College High School. Early College students can earn a plumbing license, welding certificates, cosmotology certificates or business administration certificates among many others. Students will use those certificates to enter the workforce.
“And that is a very unusual model,” Cheshire said, before adding that this also fills the need for business in the county because graduating students have the skill sets that businesses need.
What does it take to be a successful student at the school?
Anyone can do it, the principal said: “It just takes a person who is highly motivated. It’s a lot. They’re not just taking traditional high school classes. They’re also taking college classes. Someone who’s motivated and driven enough to handle that load. It’s not a light load. It has to be someone who really wants it.”

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