Caldwell County early college's 'super-seniors' announce college choices

May. 14, 2013 @ 07:04 AM

The J.E. Broyhill Civic Center erupted with cheers, whistles, hoops and hollers from high-school students, teachers, counselors and parents on Monday – but it wasn’t a pep rally.

Well, not exactly. The subject of celebration wasn’t homecoming or a playoff game.

It was 50-some students onstage, all just a few months away from a four-year college or university.

This was Caldwell Early College High School’s College Decision Day. The assembly, like others that take place at schools around the county in the weeks leading up to graduation, gives seniors a chance to announce their choice of college to their peers.

But of course, there’s something different about the graduates at the early college. They’ve completed five years of high school instead of four in hopes of earning enough college-level credits to graduate with an associate’s degree as well as a high school diploma.

Teachers refer to the graduates as fifth-years; students call them super-seniors.

The idea is to give students a day to celebrate when they can hoop and holler – when they’re not constrained by the formality of graduation, advisor Donna Doughty said.

At the event, an announcer shares who each student’s parents are and what that student will be studying – everything from history to biochemistry. And of course, there’s the big reveal: a photo of the logo or mascot that tells which university it will be, accompanied by raucous cheers.

There’s one other component, too – one that an outside observer might relish the most. Each student gets to share one piece of advice for underclassmen.

That ranged from admonitions – “Stop whining,” Western Carolina-bound Trevor Parrish told freshmen – to encouragement.

“Keep going,” soon-to-be graduate B.J. McRary said. “That’s the best advice I can give you. Keep going.”

Graduating senior Erik Martin advised underclassmen to push hard at the early colleg,e to avoid "becoming another terrible statistic of Caldwell County."

That's almost exactly why the school was founded in the first place. Faced with low graduation and college-attendance rate, plus an economy that had lost most of its well-paying, low-education jobs, town leaders knew they needed a way to get more students into four-year colleges.

Caldwell Early College High School was founded in 2006; the graduating class of 2013 is its third. The school's small student body is meant to be a representation of the county itself -- students' backgrounds are a mix of ethnicity, socioeconomic status, geographic location and academic performance.

This year, 98.6 percent of the early college fifth-years will receive a high school diploma. Of that number, 85 percent are registered at four-year colleges for the fall. Seventy-four percent received associate's degrees in addition to their high school diplomas.

Students were accepted to a total of 30 colleges in 10 states, and every student who applied to four-year institutions was accepted to at least one.

At Monday’s ceremony, teachers and school staff were splashed in red or Carolina blue or black and gold, all the colors of their various alma maters. Occasionally, the alumni would cheer a little louder when they heard a student had chosen their former home.

And many of the students onstage, because they’d chosen the early college five years before, were just two years away from being alumni themselves.