New Middle College at UNCG Opens Wednesday

Guilford County Schools' (GCS) newest high school opens tomorrow. Fifty ninth-graders will become the first students at The Middle College at UNCG, a public high school option for students interested in exploring health sciences.

The Middle College at UNCG becomes the eighth early or middle college high school in GCS, which is a national leader in providing specialized schools. The school's launch also marks the first time high school students have attended classes full time on the UNCG campus in more than 40 years, since the Curry School closed in 1969.

Students will spend the next four years taking both high school and college classes and participating in internship experiences designed to expose them to a variety of health careers in the human services and medical fields. The school is starting small with 50 students and six staff members. In subsequent years, the school will add additional grade levels and staff as it grows. The small size will provide students with an individualized and personal experience.

"We have the chance to do something great here by exposing students early to higher education and careers," said Principal Angela Polk-Jones, a UNCG alumna and 21-year educator in GCS. "The students are only in the ninth grade. Some know they want to be veterinarians, nurses, doctors or even medical artists. Others may not know exactly what they want to do yet. Here, we are going to encourage them, get them on the right track and help them find what interests them."

Interest in the new school was strong. More than 150 students applied for the school's first class, which will have the potential of earning up to two years of college credit by the time they graduate. Dr. Tom Martinek, a kinesiology professor in UNCG's School of Health and Human Sciences and the university's liaison to the Middle College, was not surprised by the demand.

"It's a great opportunity for a kid who is looking for an alternative learning experience," he said. "For kids who are really capable of taking college classes, it's a way to challenge them more. Taking classes at a university with other college students - just rubbing shoulders with other college students - is really a plus."

Middle College students will be able to start earning college credit in their first year. Along with satisfying requirements in the state's high school curriculum, students will earn five hours of credit in ninth grade by taking college-level physical education and health classes.

Another key element of the Middle College is the work study component, which will give students exposure to a wide variety of health careers. Each Friday, students will shadow at hospitals and other health agencies in the area. They will also learn career skills, work place etiquette and leadership skills.

The Middle College at UNCG is a part of the North Carolina New Schools Project. The program emphasizes innovation in education, an important part of the GCS Strategic Plan, which includes strategies for expanding school choice options.

GCS created the first early/middle colleges in the state in 2001, and the model has been replicated across North Carolina. The district's commitment to developing early/middle colleges has contributed to both lowering the dropout rate and raising the graduation rate. In 2011, eight GCS high schools -- six of them early/middle colleges -- achieved 100 percent graduation rates.

"Our experience shows that these schools work well for students who may not have been successful in the traditional school setting," said Dr. Terry Worrell, GCS Central Region superintendent. "Even though the district has faced millions in budget cuts, our Board of Education kept its commitment to developing middle colleges, because we know this model works. We appreciate UNCG's willingness to support us in providing alternative learning opportunities for students and assisting in all aspects of the development of the new Middle College. The partnership is a great service to the students of Guilford County."

Funding for the school will be provided by the district's Race to the Top and GCS Title I dropout prevention dollars along with a donation from Businesses for Excellence in Education. Moses Cone and High Point Regional health systems have also pledged their support for the program.

The majority of classes for The Middle College at UNCG will be held in the Health and Human Performance (HHP) Building on campus. Dr. Celia Hooper, dean of the School of Health and Human Sciences at UNCG, says she looks forward to the way the college campus will impact high school students' futures.

"The new Middle College will offer wonderful opportunities to young people to pursue careers they may never have thought about," she said. "They will have opportunities to visit clinics and community outreach projects and learn from professionals who may have a job they might want some day. UNCG students will have the opportunity to mentor high school students, work with them in research projects and learn what it means to be a peer teacher. We are all so excited about the Middle College students' arrival and we invite our university community to greet them on the steps of the HHP building early in the morning on August 10."