Opening The Academic Smorgasbord To All

Everyday Education


Last updated 9/16/2019 at 3:44pm

BHS students Preston Thill (center) and Isaac Simon (right) observe as visitors use their visitor engagement app at the North Carolina Zoo's Red Ruffed Lemur exhibit. The app uses a survival game to inform visitors about threats that the lemurs face as an endangered species.

There was a time in Transylvania County, in North Carolina and in this nation when if you weren't identified as "gifted and talented" or "AIG," you were relegated to a menu of traditional K-12 education. You still received a good education, but it often lacked the stimulation and advantages of advanced classes and a more broad-based curriculum.

The small schools in Transylvania County, a product of the county's population size, also contributed to the challenges of supplying a variety of educational opportunities, particularly as students entered high school. Too many students and their families faced a barrier to their learning and future. Too many faced a wall to opportunity.

No longer! Transylvania County students have an academic smorgasbord to choose from, and all are open to any student who is qualified regardless of whether or not they are AIG-identified. They consist of five primary paths:

•Dual enrollment;

•Advanced Placement (AP);

•North Carolina School of Science and Math (NCSSM);

•North Carolina Governor's School; and

•North Carolina Virtual Public School (NCVPS).

The most familiar options are Advanced Placement and Dual Enrollment. Advanced Placement courses offer college level content and potential college credit (provided the student successfully tests on a nationally normed exam at the end of the course). The course usually covers a mandated curriculum taught by a specially certified high school teacher. Through the North Carolina Advanced Placement Partnership, the state of North Carolina now pays the exam fee for all public school students, so financial need is no longer a barrier. Significantly, because of this investment of state dollars in students, all public universities in North Carolina now accept exam scores of 3 or higher as college credit. In the past, different institutions had differing score requirements.

Dual enrollment is offered here in Transylvania County by both Blue Ridge Community College (BRCC) and Brevard College. BRCC offers community college classes and certifications in such careers as welding, technology and the medical field at both high schools and at the BRCC campus. BRCC also offers a college transfer pathway, allowing students to complete their first two years of university study locally. While this might not seem extraordinary, the fact that North Carolina has stipulated that all its universities accept these transfer courses at face value, which has led to many private colleges and universities following suit, is extraordinary.

Dual enrollment courses on the Brevard College campus also are not new, but beginning this fall, Brevard College offers them at a special price point, making them potentially as accessible financially as BRCC classes. Designed primarily for students who plan to attend Brevard College, but open to any student who qualifies for admission, these liberal arts and advanced classes offer local students a variety of possibilities.

NCSSM offers three different options that Transylvania County students can take advantage of:


•Distance learning; and

•STEM scholars.

The first such program in science and math in the United States, the NCSSM residential program involves living on the Durham campus during the school year and graduating with a diploma from NCSSM instead of a student's home high school. The open enrollment distance learning option provides live, interactive video-conferenced courses during the regular, local school day, with NCSSM teachers visiting the high school campus at least once a semester. A second, hybrid distance learning program allows students to participate in the video-conferenced classes in the evenings instead of the school day. Students also spend two weekends a semester on the Durham campus. (Note: A second NCSSM campus will open in Morganton in 2021, another possibility for Transylvania County students.)

The STEM Scholars program offers a special NCSSM online course of study for freshmen and sophomores in school-formed cohort classes, in preparation for moving into the higher level STEM courses as upperclassmen.

Both Brevard High and Rosman High field these cohorts, which ensures students do not have to leave their home high school to build these relationships and foundations.

The N.C. Governor's School is a summer residential option for Transylvania County rising seniors. Held at High Point University (Governor's School West) and Meredith College in Raleigh (Governor's School East), Governor's Schools provide five and one half weeks of academic and arts focused experiences for students who qualify and are nominated by their individual school systems. While the programs don't offer grades or credits, they do offer a unique learning experience for close to 800 students from across the state each year. Transylvania County Schools yearly can nominate four students in academic areas and eight students in fine or performing arts into a statewide pool for admission.

Finally, NCVPS provides a way for individual TCS students to explore their specific academic interests or needs while adding an additional class period to their traditional school day. Offering over 100 online courses every year, NCVPS is an especially important option for small school systems like Transylvania County. With NCVPS, the system can provide a class for a single student (for example Russian or forensic science), or classes for a student who is homebound, wants to graduate early or simply wants to experience an online course before heading to college.

It doesn't require much imagination to realize just how much organization, vision and commitment it requires to manage and offer these many options to Transylvania County students and their families. Staying up to date on registration and scheduling information alone is a huge job. Central office administrators and principals must focus on expanding opportunities within realistic financial and teacher load realities, while guidance counselors play a huge role in making sure every student and their family are aware of the myriad opportunities available as they navigate course selection and requirements with a view to their future.

Then there's the technology that provides the subtle backbone of support for so many of these programs - the Chromebooks that every student is provided, the video conferencing equipment, the technology facilitators and school library media coordinators who facilitate the day-to-day online and distance learning courses the school system provides.

It's an exciting opportunity and responsibility that TCS offers all its students. Here in this small Western North Carolina community, there are no barriers, no walls to a child's education. Yet, this is an equitable playing field that must be maintained and expanded.

As AIG/Advanced Learning Coordinator Heidi Bullock said, "The wall is down, but we have to keep it down. We have to keep people moving back and forth, breaking down and crossing the barriers. We have to continue to tear down that wall!"

(Frances Bryant Bradburn is the retired director of instructional technology for the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction. Heidi Bullock is the AIG/ advanced learning coordinator for the Transylvania County Schools.)

From left to right, BHS students Marco Rivera, Preston Thill and Isaac Simon develop a visitor engagement app for the North Carolina Zoo's Red Ruffed Lemur exhibit. (Photos courtesy of Kevin Smith)


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