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9th-graders can earn both diploma, associate degree

Wouldn't it be great if teenagers could get both a high school diploma and a college degree at the same time? And if the tuition for college were free?

Students right here in Cabarrus County are accomplishing just that.

On Aug. 10 the Cabarrus-Kannapolis Early College High School opened its doors to 49 eager ninth-graders to take high school and college classes at the same time.

Temporarily holding classes at Cox Mill High School, it will eventually move to a permanent location at the South Campus of Rowan-Cabarrus Community College, on Trinity Church Road near N.C. 73 at I-85.

Principal Vance Fishback said the delay in adoption of the state budget caused a delay in the start of renovations at the RCCC campus. “We are hoping the renovations will be complete and we can move in around the first of October,” he said.

In four years, these ambitious ninth-graders will have both high school diplomas and associate's degrees.

“The majority of our students I would consider as average students with above-average potential,” Fishback said. “They are the middle students that can be challenged to do more.

“… In a traditional school they would get lost in the crowd and never reach their full potential. No matter what reason brought them to the Early College,” Fishback said, “all of the students share the same desire to be challenged and get a jump start on their college.”

Each student gets a laptop to use while they are enrolled, through a partnership between Dell Corp. and Cabarrus County Schools, Fishback said.

Because the school is small, it has no band or interscholastic athletics. But there will be a student government, a yearbook club and some other clubs based on students' interests. Classes will also be smaller than at other schools; usually 20 or fewer students per class.

“Our school is not about just giving students free college credit. There are other programs that deliver that,” Fishback said. “Our mission is to prepare students for college, career and life.… For a lot of our students, this is their only option for continuing their education past high school.”

Each year 60 ninth-graders will be chosen to attend. Fishback said the school helps more than just the students.

“The more education a person has, the more potential for a higher wage,” he said. “… The benefit is not just for the students; it also benefits the community. For businesses, it means more people with more disposable income to spend. For local governments, it means a larger pool of skilled labor to attract new businesses and industry. It truly is a win-win for everyone.”

Freelance columnist Linda Doherty (northwestcabarrus@gmail.com) lives in Moss Creek Village.

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