South Charlotte

Governor's School is family tradition for these siblings

A last name like Champion brings with it expectations of greatness that could be overwhelming.

Not for the Champion family of south Charlotte.

All three Champion children - Julie, 21, Will, 17, and Paul, 17 - have been accepted into the prestigious Governor's School.

The six-week summer residential program is for the state's most intellectually gifted students.

Each of the state's 100 counties must send at least one representative each year.

There are no grades, no tests and no credits offered during the session, although students must pass multiple tests - including an IQ test - to get in the program.

Instead, students explore various study areas.

"You're learning at your own pace and your own will. Everyone wants to be there and everyone wants to learn," said Julie.

Julie's chemistry teacher at South Mecklenburg High School nominated her when she was a rising senior.

Her primary focus was natural sciences, although she explored other topics, such as how to make aspirin and how to investigate a crime scene with forensic science.

Julie made a pact with another student that they would return to their schools and start a gay-straight alliance.

After Julie started the alliance at South Mecklenburg, she went on to become the first straight ally president of the Georgia Tech Pride Association.

Will attended Governor's School as a rising junior. His focus was percussion.

Although acceptance is typically reserved for rising seniors, students attending for instrumental music can go as rising juniors.

Will enjoyed his time at Governor's School so much that he has decided to leave South Mecklenburg to go to the N.C. School of the Arts in Winston Salem.

Paul wanted a similar experience as his brother and sister, so he nominated himself for Governor's School last fall.

"It was a very gutsy move on his part," said dad, Tim, who is a chemistry professor at Johnson C. Smith University.

Paul is attending Governor's School this summer.

"We are so proud of all of them," said mom, K.T. , who works as a physical therapist at Carolinas Medical Center-Northeast.

"Governor's School piques their interests in a lot of things. It's not just a typical school. It's sort of a utopian experience that I think Will and Julie have really benefited from," she said.

But the Champions said they're worried that utopian experience might be threatened by state budget cuts.

The school is partially funded by the General Assembly and is administered by the public schools of North Carolina, the State Board of Education and the Department of Public Instruction.

Already, the number of students accepted to Governor's School has been lowered, and families are now asked to share the expenses.

The state paid for Julie's attendance entirely, but this year the Champions had to pay $500 for Paul to attend.

"There's a lot of diversity at Governor's School because it's paid for by the state. If you're smart but your family can't afford it, you can still go," Will said.

But if families are forced to pay for Governor's School completely, "It's only going to let a certain demographic go and it's not going to be the same," said Julie.

Added Tim: "It was the first governor's school in the country. They made this real leap of faith. It's disappointing to see North Carolina rolling back this great innovation that they created."