Shining brightly: RSS Early College earns Lighthouse Award

Submitted by David Whisenant
Tuesday, February 26th, 2013, 3:13pm

Shining brightly: RSS Early College earns Lighthouse Award

SALISBURY – The Rowan-Salisbury Board of Education recognized and honored the Rowan County Early College at last night’s regular meeting during “Celebrations.”

Earlier in February, the North Carolina Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development (NCASCD) presented the prestigious “Lighthouse School Award” to the Rowan-Salisbury School System’s Early College during the annual conference. RSS Superintendent Dr. Judy Grissom, RSS Director of Secondary Education Kathy McDuffie, Rowan County Early College Principal Dr. Cindy Misenheimer and Early College Teacher Julie Stolze were present to accept the award. The “Lighthouse School Award” is presented annually to one or more North Carolina schools that are leading the way in innovative programs and practices that get demonstrated results.

The Early College was presented with a plaque, a $500 check and a professional photograph for receiving this honor.

The Early College opened its doors in August of 2008 and welcomed the first freshman class with 73 students under the leadership of principal Dr. Cindy Misenheimer. Today, the school has expanded to include students in Grades 9 through 12 for the second consecutive year. In the spring of 2012, the Early College graduated its first class of 42 students with 90% of the graduates simultaneously receiving an Associate Degree in either Arts or Science from Rowan Cabarrus Community College – all accomplished through a four-year program. The typical Early College high school program entails five years to achieve this goal.

The Early College was the first school in the district to be named an “Honor School of Excellence” as designated through the NC state accountability program.

The Early College is a non-traditional high school designed to serve under-represented students such as first-generation college students. The Early College provides project and problem-based learning. All students enroll in honors level high school courses, while participating in college courses, as well as seminars, field trips, community service, and college and university campus visits.

“I could not be more excited and proud for Dr. Misenheimer, the Early College staff and students for bringing this high honor and recognition home to our district,” says Dr. Grissom. “The Early College provides an innovative setting that helps students achieve amazing results in school that they might not have achieved without the Early College learning model. We appreciate our partnership with Rowan Cabarrus Community College in helping to bring this opportunity to fruition.”

A little about the Rowan County Early College:

Challenges and Successes
Eighty-six percent of the Early College 2012 graduates were first generation college students with several of the graduates being the first to graduate from high school within their immediate families. Individuals in this graduating class accumulated from 33 to 81 hours of college credit. The small school campus creates an atmosphere of support to help students through unexpected hardships so they can continue to achieve success at the Early College.

Intense Academic Program Based on the Three R’s
The Early College philosophy is built around the three R’s:

  1. Rigor- The Early College provides an intense academic program with all classes being offered at the honors level. Students are required to fully participate each day by developing their scholastic skills to higher levels of thinking, reading, writing, and speaking that enhances their preparation for college.
  2. Relevance- Through a powerful teaching program and unique learning opportunity, the Early College curriculum connects learning to the real world experience.
  3. Relationships- Through the small school atmosphere, the Early College staff can focus and nurture the individual student needs and talents.

The instructional program at the Early College is a project and problem-based learning model. Dr. Misenheimer explains that “Students are expected to work collaboratively within teams completing a great deal of their work outside of the classroom. This process helps prepare students for college.” Early College students begin taking college classes the first semester of their freshman year. By the time they are juniors and seniors, they are mainly taking college courses. Last year’s college class passage rate was 97%.

Parental Involvement
The Early College encourages parental participation requiring parents to be involved in their student’s learning process. “Parent Nights are held once a month covering important information for all grade levels,” explains Dr. Misenheimer. “A general session with parents may include topics such as social media and abuse of over-the-counter medications. It is not unusual to have no vacant seats left at these sessions and often parents are lining the walls in an auditorium that seats over 300 people.”

Clubs, Seminars, Student Government
Fridays are structured for enriched learning through seminars, speakers, and club activities. Something new added this year was “The Truthiness Conference” held in December and developed by the Early College staff to help students understand the difference between fact and opinion. Breakout sessions were led by the editor of the Salisbury Post, the school system’s Information Officer, the Information Officer for RCCC among other guests and staff members. There is also an active Student Government involved on the college level, an award-winning Junior Civitan Club, an Art Club, a National Honor Society and a yearbook staff. “Most of the Early College clubs meet on Friday afternoons so that all students can participate,” says Dr. Misenheimer. “Clubs that meet on Fridays include yoga, Toastmasters, HOSA, newspaper, chess, and the Nature Club.”

Field Trips and College Visits
Important field trips are included in the Early College experience. Each year the freshman class travels to Washington, D.C. visiting all of the national monuments, the National Archives, the Capital, the Holocaust Museum, the Supreme Court, the White House, Mt. Vernon, the Smithsonians. A highlight of this trip is when students present the wreath at the ceremony at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at Arlington National Cemetery. The sophomore class visits Gettysburg and the Amish country. All students begin visiting colleges and universities their freshman year. During their junior year, college and university visits are focused in the eastern part of North Carolina. By the time students graduate, they have visited at least 9 college and/or university campuses throughout North Carolina. The staff feels it is important for students to go on a college campus to understand the goal they are working to achieve. “Many of the students have never been on a college campus prior to these visits,” says Dr. Misenheimer. “All students have the opportunity to attend these trips.” Scholarship are provided in addition to various fundraisers to help with costs so that all students have the opportunity to attend these trips. Every other year the students travel abroad.

Application Process to Attend the Early College
Students must apply to attend the Rowan County Early College in their eighth-grade year. Student names are submitted for a lottery conducted by SERVE. The composition of the freshman class matches the diverse demographics of the Rowan-Salisbury School System. This year’s freshman class also reflects that 80% of the students will be first generation college students in their families. The school usually receives approximately 150 applications for 60 slots.

Learn more about the Rowan County Early College by visiting their homepage through the Rowan-Salisbury School System’s website at: