SANFORD — Just three and a half years after starting high school, Lee County teenagers Nancy Urias and Kimberly Castillo have earned both their diplomas and associate degrees.
Urias has one word for their educational experience: “Wow!”
Urias and Castillo graduated Dec. 22 from Lee Early College, an academically advanced, non-traditional high school located on Central Carolina Community College’s Lee County Campus.
The rest of their graduation class: Danielle Fiore, Ariel Hickerson and Amanda Barnes, completed their diploma and degree work in just 4.5 years, also ahead of schedule.
“I am really impressed with this group of young women,” said LEC Principal Bob Biehl. “They are definitely a highly motivated group of young people.”
Lee Early College, a collaboration of Lee County Schools and Central Carolina Community College, opened in 2006. Students enroll as ninth graders and, within five years, earn both a high school diploma and an associate degree. Their education is free because they enrolled as public high school students.
Upon graduation and degree completion, students may transfer to four-year institutions. Under the provisions of the comprehensive articulation agreement, in which all North Carolina public and many private institutions participate, all of their credits will transfer, earning junior standing.
The five young women received their high school diplomas and Associate in Arts-University Transfer degrees Dec. 22 in graduation exercises at the Dennis A. Wicker Civic Center. Central Carolina Community College has no fall curriculum graduation ceremony, so the young women have the option of walking in the spring graduation.
“It has been a wonderful experience collaborating with Lee County Schools on this exciting educational venture known as Lee Early College,” said CCCC President Bud Marchant. “These motivated young people have shown that, given opportunity and guidance, they can excel and move on to even greater accomplishments.”
All of the graduates are excited about what they have accomplished at Lee Early College since stepping onto the campus in August of 2006 or 2007. All are also excited about heading to the universities of their choice to continue their educations.
“The decision to come to Lee Early College has been the best I have taken in my life,” said Urias. “I have learned and experienced that, with hard work and dedication, anything is possible and no dream is unreachable.”
Urias will attend Campbell University and major in business administration and minor in psychology. She hopes to become a lawyer.
Castillo was 15 when she started LEC. While earning her high school diploma and associate degree, she also made time to earn an EKG monitor technician certificate at the college. She plans to continue her education and become a psychologist.
“Overall, the college environment, LEC faculty, and students have had such a positive impact in my life and have helped me become a better person,” she said. “I feel I could be put into any college environment and succeed.”
Barnes and Hickerson were just 14 when they applied to LEC to get a jumpstart on their educations. They achieved success, and a new chapter is opening in their lives as both head to Western Carolina University.
“The staff at the school has taught me to be more outgoing,” Barnes said of her LEC experience. “I would encourage rising ninth graders to apply to it because it is a great way to better themselves — and the first two years of college are free.”
Barnes plans to earn her bachelor’s degree in social work and Hickerson plans to earn a bachelor’s and master’s degree in clinical psychology.
“The LEC program is difficult, but the rewards are great and worth the effort,” Hickerson said.
Fiore plans to attend a University of North Carolina system school, but hasn’t yet decided which one. She is still enrolled at CCCC, finishing up anatomy and physiology classes. Her goal is to become a labor and delivery nurse.
“I thought it was cool that, at 14, I was already in college,” she said. “I realized at this school how important education is and how it will get you a long way in life. I am very thankful for LEC and all the staff and everyone who helped me achieve my goal.”
For more information about Lee Early College, visit its Web site, www.leeearlycollege.com
. For more information about Central Carolina Community College, visit www.cccc.edu