RALEIGH The N.C. Governor's School, an enrichment program for gifted students, will operate for 550 students on two campuses this summer, following a six-month drive by alumni who raised more than $700,000.
The school was in danger of dying altogether last year after the legislature eliminated state funding to the nearly 50-year-old program started by former Gov. Terry Sanford. But the N.C. Governor's School Foundation stepped in with an emergency fundraising campaign, bringing in contributions from individual donors and foundations.
"This is good news for our students and our state," said State Superintendent of Public Instruction June Atkinson, who announced the scope of the program Monday alongside alumni and foundation leaders.
The program will be smaller and shorter, but will operate on two campuses - Meredith College in Raleigh and Salem College in Winston-Salem. Each campus will host 275 students for five weeks. Last year, the program served a total of 600 students for six weeks; before that, the program reached 800 students.
The enrichment opportunity is important, especially for students from rural school districts, Atkinson said.
"And when you consider the quality of this program, it is no surprise that Governor's School alumni are likely to attend college, graduate, stay in North Carolina and choose careers in which they are able to give back to their communities," she said. "This means that right now, most likely in every one of our counties, there are Governor's School alumni working to make North Carolina a better place."
The Governor's School is the nation's oldest statewide summer residential program for academically gifted high school students. About 32,000 people have attended since the school was founded in 1963.
Foundation leaders will launch an advocacy effort early next month to persuade lawmakers to restore state funding, which was $850,000 for last summer.
"Our last-ditch effort to save the 2012 program through private funds is not something that we can do again," said Roice Fulton, vice president of the foundation. "We must be clear that our volunteer fundraising effort cannot and will not support Governor's School beyond this year."
Fulton said $39,000 will be used this year to offset tuition costs for low-income students. Three donors - the Golden LEAF Foundation, the Heisman Foundation and the Florence Rogers Charitable Trust - designated a portion of their donations for scholarships.
The school was tuition free for 47 years until 2009, Fulton said, when budget cuts resulted in a $500 fee.
"We continue to hear unsettling stories of eligible students, who, because of this fee, choose not to even apply," he said.
Students must be nominated by their local school superintendents, charter school directors or private school headmasters. There are 10 curriculum areas: art, choral music, dance, English, foreign language (French and Spanish), instrumental music, mathematics, natural science, social science and theater.
'A jump start'
Alumni of the program say it is life-changing.
Jamie Neal, a graduate student at Wake Forest University, attended in 2005. Her mother had just died and she considered college a financial impossibility. Governor's School changed her trajectory, she said Monday.
"I describe my entrance to campus there as something like being set on fire," said Neal, who now serves on the foundation board. "It was just a jump start, being surrounded by so many intellectual, imaginative and creative people."
Sonja Williams, a middle school music teacher in Jacksonville, attended the program in 1979, where choral students sang Vivaldi and recorded an album. She pursued music degrees in college and in graduate school in New York, before returning to Onslow County.
"It was a good investment," Williams said of the Governor's School. "I have been able to share with my students my love for music and give them experiences that they would not have had otherwise."
Her son later followed in her footsteps. And Williams, also the president of the N.C. Music Educators Association, was happy to give a contribution to help keep Governor's School afloat.
"We cannot, we cannot let it die," she said.