HEAD START: The NC iRIS initiative models it program on the states successful Early College programs like the one on the campus of Beaufort County Community College. Mona Moore | Daily News

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EXTRA CREDIT: Students get chance to earn college credits

Published 9:18pm Monday, January 21, 2013

The success of North Carolina’s early college program has motivated a Raleigh-based nonprofit to help more Beaufort County high school students earn college credits.
North Carolina New Schools started an initiative called North Carolina Investing in Rural Innovative Schools (NC iRIS) with a $15 million grant and $1.5 million from businesses and foundations. Beaufort County’s Northside and Southside high schools were among the first schools in the state to participate in the three-year initiative. Washington High School will start the program this fall.
Beaufort County Schools Superintendent Don Phipps said the initiative is a rare opportunity for schools in the state.
“There are 18 schools total that will be participating, and three are going to be in Beaufort County,” Phipps said.
North Carolina New Schools invited school districts in rural parts of the state to apply for the grants. Beaufort County schools received an invitation, in part, because of the success of the Beaufort County Early College High School at Beaufort County Community College. The county’s tier level also played a part in the nonprofit’s decision.
Because each participating school was able to devise its own plan for using the grant money, the exact portion of the $15-million pie for each school will vary. The grant is for three years. In those initial years, the nonprofit will work with local officials to secure funding for the program.
In Beaufort County, grant money will pay for teacher development.
“We have a team going to workshops and conferences,” Phipps said.
For this year’s program, school principals were asked to identify sophomores who might not qualify for early college or the N.C. Career & College Promise. Students have to meet criteria to participate in either program.
In doing so, the initiative will help students who might not have considered college an option, including those with aspirations that do not have a four-year degree requirement.
The school district’s library coordinator, Michele Oros, wrote the district’s grant proposal.
“Seventy-five percent of the parents of Beaufort County Schools’ students have never completed a bachelor’s degree or higher,” Oros said. “This is meant to give them a boost to those who have never had that.”
The iRIS program does not cover students taking college courses via other channels. It is the only program that covers the cost of courses and books.
The iRIS initiative is the latest opportunity Beaufort County students have to earn college credits before graduating from high school. Between iRIS, early college high schools, advanced-placement programs and the N.C. Career & College Promise, Phipps said, the ultimate goal would be to have at least 50 percent of Beaufort County Schools students able to graduate high school with college credits.
About 100 students in 10th grade are now enrolled in the first of several college courses they will be able to take at Beaufort County Community College while still in high school.
Until iRIS, sophomores interested in earning college credit had to be enrolled in an early college program. North Carolina New Schools had to ask state legislators to make an exception for those students who enrolled in the new initiative.
Tony Habit, president of North Carolina New Schools, said the effort promises to help students be better prepared for some level of postsecondary education, now essential for all graduates, according to a press release issued by North Carolina New Schools.
“Study after study shows that the world we now live in demands a higher level of skills for jobs that pay a good wage,” Habit said. “We owe it to our students and our community to ensure that they learn those skills. Opening doors to college courses, and the challenges they present high school students, is a smart approach. Our kids are going to come out ahead.”

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