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Rural high schools stress college credit

November 28, 2012 - Students in five rural high schools will be able to get a head start on college starting in January under an innovative new initiative aimed at students who might not have seen college in their future. About 500 students in 10th grade will take the first of several courses through local community colleges.

The approach -- blending high school with college -- borrows from North Carolina's successful early college high schools, where students can earn as much as an associate degree in addition to a high school diploma. North Carolina New Schools is now leading an effort in a number of rural school districts to provide students in traditional high schools as well with the opportunity to earn college credit before graduation.

The initiative, called North Carolina Investing in Rural Innovative Schools (NC iRIS), is funded by a $15 million grant under the federal Investing in Innovation program along with an additional $1.5 million in support from businesses and foundations. NC New Schools is joined in the effort by several partners, including the N.C. Department of Public Instruction, the N.C. Community College System and 10 rural school districts across the state.

Initially, students will take a college course in study skills, then as 11th and 12th graders, they will choose from pathways that meets their needs. The goal of the NC iRIS initiative is for students to earn as many as 21 college credits by the time they graduate. Students take the classes tuition free and also receive academic support from their high school teachers. In tandem with providing students access to college courses, teachers in the participating high schools benefit from proven instructional coaching that promotes rigorous teaching and learning in all classrooms. All students are challenged to read, write, think and talk in every class, every day.

"North Carolina's early colleges are demonstrating that by raising expectations and supports, students who may well have underperformed in traditional high schools - possibly even dropped out - can truly excel and graduate well prepared," said Tony Habit, president of NC New Schools. "We know this model works."

In all, the five-year NC iRIS initiative will apply early college strategies to 18 traditional high schools in rural communities and reach more than 20,000 students by 2016. Ten districts are currently included in the initiative over the five-year grant: Alleghany, Beaufort, Hertford, Jones, Madison, Rutherford, Surry, Wilkes, Warren and Yancey. Each individual school will receive three years of service.

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