by Britt Chester

North Carolina New Schools awarded $20 million grant | @AwfullyBrittish

On Thursday U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan appeared at the University of North Carolina Greensboro to announce a $20 million grant that will be awarded to North Carolina New Schools. The grant, which will not be finalized until private sector donations meet a certain amount, is awarded due to the successful efforts of NCNS’s implementation of early college strategy at the high school level.

“This is an investment into your leadership, your strategy, in your plan, and very importantly for us, your evidence,” said Sec. Duncan. He also noted the impact that early college high schools were having on the student’s lives, which is why he was proud to award the highest grant amount to North Carolina.

As part of the Department of Education’s Investing in Innovation (i3) initiative, $129 million will be split among 26 applications from across the United States. There were a total of 434 applications, and after reviewing them, the Dept. of Education decided to split the money up between 14 states and the District of Columbia.

“If you show us a little bit of evidence, you get a smaller grant. If you show us medium evidence, you’ll get a little bit more, and if you show us more, you will get more,” Sec. Duncan added.

North Carolina is the only state to be designated a “scale-up” grant. Schools in New York, District of Columbia, and San Francisco are being awarded roughly $12 million and are designated “validation” grants. Schools in California, Colorado, D.C., Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Kentucky, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Missouri, Ohio, and Virginia are being awarded $3 million or less for the development of programs.

Before NCNS is awarded the money, though, it must raise $500,000 from private donations before Dec. 10. NCNS must also raise another $500,000 in the six months following, totaling the private donations at 5 percent of the grant.

As part of NCNS, the North Carolina Investing in Rural Innovative Schools initiative was able to prove that the first round of grant money, $15 million awarded in 2011 and started in 2012 and matched by a $1.5 million private donation, was put to good use.

“We are in year two of a five year effort with the original $15 million grant,” said Dr. Tony Habit, president of NCNS. “The program was created in North Carolina, so it didn’t have anything to do with Washington.”

“We lead the country in the development of early college high schools. In 99 of the 100 counties they are called early college high schools, but in Guilford County they are called middle colleges “¦ it’s a language thing,” he said.

He explained that early colleges are essentially located on the campus of a college or university. Beginning in the 9th grade and following through until grade 12, students are afforded the opportunity to earn both a high school diploma and the first two years of college at no cost to them.

“Instead of making it easier, you make it harder and provide more supports. The money provides support for the teachers, provides access to college credits, and provides support for the training of administrators to help teachers focus on rigor,” Dr. Habit said.

Since the program was launched in 2012, the first group of Rural Innovative Schools showed progress in student retention. The dropout rates for East Rutherford High (Rutherford County), Northside High (Beaufort County), Southside High (Beaufort County), Madison High (Madison County), and North Surry High (Surry County) all fell nearly 30 percent from the previous year’s records.

Three students sat on the stage alongside Dr. Habit, Sec. Duncan, and Dr. James Eddy, interim Dean at the UNCG Division of Continual Learning.

Patricia Hampton, a 12th grade student at Alleghany High School, spoke during the press conference after Sec. Duncan announced the award. She was asked by Dr. Habit to speak about how having access to college credits in high school changed her view of education and her future.

“For one thing, it has really changed my opinion because you guys know, you’re in high school, school is kind of boring sometimes listening to teachers ramble on about the same things.

With all the online learning you get a chance to meet other students at other schools,” she said. Hampton is taking courses through UNCG and East Carolina University. She spoke about connecting with students on the coast, and how important it was to her meeting students from other communities who struggle with the same day-to-day things that she does.

“I live in the mountains. We don’t have neighboring schools, so it was cool to speak with people on the coast.”

Janika Langford, an 11th grader at Hertford High School in Ahoskie, North Carolina, said that taking online classes allowed her to have a flexible schedule and that she was able to plan better because of it.

Many of the students that will be affected by the program, at least those in the rural areas that have historically seen higher dropout rates, are first generation college students.

Antonio Ramas, a student at Warren County High, said “no one in my family finished high school, and no one in my family even thought about attending college.” He went on to say that taking these classes has pushed him to be a better role model for his siblings and to be a leader.

“I like these classes. Life is getting hard everyday “¦ and I have no understanding what life is going to hit (me with).” !