CONWAY — “Wow” was the word being heard around the new HCS Early College High School building Tuesday evening, as students, staff and guests gathered to dedicate the Trailblazers’ new home.
The 38,500-square-foot facility is the culmination of hopes and dreams that started more than six years ago with Horry County Schools’ Early College program, which became a full-fledged high school in 2012. The new building keeps Early College on Horry-Georgetown Technical College’s Conway campus, where its classes always have been held, but gives the school its own space in which to start its sophomore year Aug. 21.
“ ‘Wow’ is a word we’ve used a lot around here,” said Kandi Fleming-Jones, the school’s new principal. “That’s how we feel about our new home. … We want to give our students the best education possible.”
Early College will begin the new school year with 382 students and will never have more than 400 at one time, Fleming-Jones said. The official high school’s first class last spring produced 82 graduates, who also earned $2.29 million in scholarships, she said.
HGTC President Neyle Wilson said it was a proud day for him to see the results of a vision that had to be started from scratch. Success stories were hoped for with Early College, Wilson said, but no one was sure if it could be pulled off.
“This is a red-letter day for me,” he said, “a highlight of my career.”
The Early College program began in 2006 and was designed from the start to be held on a college campus but also to provide a small, personalized learning environment for its students, who may not have originally envisioned college in their future. Having classes at HGTC allows students to earn up to two years of college credit while also earning a high school diploma. Students also participate in service-learning projects and benefit from career/life planning and academic coaching to ensure they have the preparation needed to achieve their educational goals.
Students also have the support of BE2, a group that raises funds to help them with further educational opportunities. The group takes students on college visits, provides scholarships and raises money through activities, such as Horry County’s “Dancing With the Stars,” which raised $160,000 with its last installment.
Construction began in September on the new facility, which was built by Horry County Schools on land leased from HGTC. The project, which cost about $11.5 million, includes classrooms, administration and support areas, along with its own kitchen and dining facilities, and a multi-purpose/physical education area, and it was designed to be LEED certified, a “green” designation given by the nonprofit Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design.
Madison Atwood is a rising junior at Early College High and has seen the school change before her eyes.
“When I was in middle school, I didn’t know Early College existed until they told us about it in a group, but after that, I said, ‘wow, that’s where I want to go,’ ” said Atwood, who is still deciding between a career in marine biology and becoming a first-grade teacher. “They always said we’d have a building, but I didn’t think it would happen while I was here. It’s really exciting to have it.”
HCS Superintendent Cindy Elsberry said it’s not very often that a high school can take its place on a college campus.
“[Early College] blurs the lines between K-12 and higher education,” she said. “We think that’s the way the model should be.”
Contact VICKI GROOMS at 443-2401 or follow her at Twitter.com/TSN_VickiGrooms.