SMITHFIELD — Spring break is fast approaching for students attending Johnston County Schools and with it come thoughts of summer vacation. Rising ninth graders and high school students have a myriad of options available to them that have made the high school experience one tailored to the student.
“Things aren’t like they were when we were in high school,” said Cary Lane Cockrell, high school curriculum director of the Johnston County Schools. “There are so many more options for students. I understand why parents and students can feel overwhelmed.”
Gone are the days when every student followed the same path to a traditional high school experience. Today’s high school students can still attend a traditional four year high school. Others, however, choose to graduate in five years with an associate’s degree, or combine the more traditional high school experience with college courses leading to a four year diploma and a college transcript with course credits.
College in high school
Johnston County Early College Academy opened in the fall of 2008 as a partnership between Johnston Community College (JCC) and the Johnston County Public Schools. Students attend Early College Academy for five years, grades nine through 13, on the campus of JCC. Upon graduation students are awarded both a high school diploma and an associate’s degree or two years of college transfer credit toward a bachelor’s degree.
Students receive six years of education in five years and the program of study is tuition free. Transportation and lunches are provided by the Johnston County Schools.
“If the student chooses this path and decides to continue their education at a four year institution they would start their college career classified as a junior,” Cockrell said. She explained that although in terms of credits the student would be classified as a junior when entering a four year college, they would still be eligible for freshman dorms, meal plans and financial support.
“Early College is not for every student,” Cockrell said. “There are no sports offered at the school.” Students are also taking college level work so they need to be strong academically when they enter the program.
Entrance to Early College is limited to 50 students annually. “We have about 500 applicants for 50 places,” Cockrell said. Preferential placement is given to academically strong first generation college students and to students who might not otherwise be able to attend college.
Another path high school students can opt for that is similar to Early College is Johnston County Middle College High School. The Middle College opened in 2005 and is also located on the JCC campus. At the Middle College, students in eleventh and twelfth grade have the opportunity to complete their high school graduation requirements while building a college transcript.
Unlike Early College, the Middle College option does not end in an associates degree. Rather, students typically graduate from their Middle College experience with their high school diploma and a year of college credits that can be built upon after graduation. An application process including an interview is required with openings for a total of 125 students.
Ready for work
A third pathway students in Johnston County can follow to receive their high school diploma is through the Career College Promise. There are two routes of study under this umbrella for students who are interested in gaining college credits while attending their regular high school. These pathways are available to students in eleventh and twelfth grade.
In the Career and Technical Education program, a student can gain credits toward a job credential, certificate or diploma in a technical career allowing them to either be ready to work upon graduation, or perhaps have as little as a year of schooling left for their future career.
The classes are tuition-free and taught at JCC, at the student’s traditional high school or online. Areas of certification are as diverse as air conditioning, heating and refrigeration technology, computer-integrated machining technology, cosmetology, early childhood education and paralegal studies. In all, 21 areas of certification are offered.
The Career College Promise is for students who plan to attend a four-year institution after high school. These students can take up to 34 hours of tuition-free community college course credits that will transfer to any public or participating private college or university. This saves students time and money in pursuing a four-year degree.
“We want our students to be successful,” Cockrell said. Giving them the options to tailor their high school experience to their aspirations and abilities while maintaining a challenging learning environment is the goal school system leaders say they hold for each student in Johnston County.