Questions about classroom space and screening of students dominated the conversation at last Wednesday’s forum on the new Early/Middle College at UNCG. About 20 people – primarily parents and UNCG staff and faculty – attended.
Health and Human Performance Dean Celia Hooper and Kinesiology Professor Tom Martinek, who spearheaded the project, fielded initial questions, along with Anita Walker, central region executive director for Guilford County Schools (GCS). The early/middle college, a school for students interested in health and wellness careers and struggling with the standard school environment, opens in the fall semester.
Students will spend four years (grades 9-12) in the early/middle college, gaining work-study experience in health-related fields and with options to obtain pharmacy tech or CNA certification. The initial cohort will include 50 students, interviewed and selected by GCS. About 125 students applied at the recent GCS magnet fair, and applications are still being accepted.
Some highlights of the forum:
- Those students selected will not have serious disciplinary problems. They may have minor infractions or simply be bored or uneasy in the standard classroom setting.
- Students will attend classes on campus, in various buildings where space is available.
- Students will not be required to go into health or wellness professions after graduation.
- Students can earn up to two years of transferable college credit.
- All local and state graduation requirements will be met through the curriculum.
Hooper said she admires GCS for taking such a bold step to offer students an alternate educational path, and that UNCG and GCS are still tweaking the details.
“Schools are the Army, and they have to be. They are getting thousands of kids in and sending thousands of kids out,” Hooper said. “[The early/middle college] is not the Army. It’s a little byway, and it’s messy.”
She acknowledged that the endeavor was a “tough sell” because of budgetary concerns for GCS. Community partners chipped in funds, but GCS will hire and pay three teachers, a principal and a guidance counselor, and provide food, transportation and support services.
UNCG will provide classroom space – which Hooper calls “the Power of Place” – offer some of Martinek’s time as a project liaison, and recruit help from willing UNCG students, staff and faculty.
Martinek, who has run afterschool programs for kids for 17 years, says high school is a challenge for most kids, who are struggling to find direction in life.
“My dream is not to undo the public schools but to be a part of them,” he said. “I want these kids to rub shoulders with health professionals. I want them networking, building that bridge.”
Several UNCG faculty and staff members offered their support for the project.
J. Scott Young, who heads UNCG’s counseling and educational development program, said his department can provide extra help for early/middle college students. “If you communicate needs as they arise,” he told Hooper and Martinek, “I think you’ve got more help than you can imagine.”
Beth Boyett, who works in UNCG’s iSchool, said her son thrived when he attended the Middle College at Greensboro College. Although he made good grades and was not a discipline problem, “he hated the restricted environment of the average high school.”
Sonja Frison of the UNCG Center for Youth, Family and Community Partnerships, said she’d like to see the early/middle college at UNCG emerge as a model for educating at-risk youth, especially those who could potentially wind up in the criminal justice system.
“UNCG has a wonderful history of working with youth who are at-risk or disadvantaged,” Frison said.
By Michelle Hines