March 29, 2012
12-86

Jessica Pope
Communications Specialist

VSU, VECA Help Struggling Learners Realize Their Potential

 

VALDOSTA -- Paldreca Williams will never forget the day her oldest son, Shiquan Hunter, brought home some information about a new school called the Valdosta Early College Academy.

“He handed me the paper and said that he wanted to go to this new school,” she said. “At first, I had no idea what he was talking about, but it was the best decision I ever made.”

That was four years ago. Hunter entered VECA in August 2008 as a sixth grader with good behavior but a difficult time making good grades. Williams said that, within the first year, she noticed that her son was achieving significant academic gains, which were reflected in his progress reports and test scores.

A self-proclaimed “B” student, Hunter, now a freshman, said that the one-on-one tutoring he receives at VECA and the support of his classmates make it easier for him to achieve success. He dreams of attending the University of Florida, studying business, becoming an entrepreneur, and being a good role model for his brother, Tyler Carmichael, 7.

“Our Early College program has begun to transform the lives of every person involved -- students, parents, educators, and other school personnel,” said Ingrid Hall, VECA principal. “Also, people involved with VECA through our partnership with Valdosta State University along with business and community partners have been a part of this transformation. This program is a true collaboration among a diverse group of people in our community. Valdosta Early College Academy provides students a unique opportunity to change their lives through educational experiences which prepare them for success in college. I am excited to be part of this endeavor, extremely proud of our students, and very appreciative of our supportive parents. In four years, we have accomplished so much more than I had envisioned.”

In 2008, VECA started with 36 sixth grade students from the Valdosta City School System, shared Dr. Brian Gerber, director for curriculum, research, and technology in VSU’s James L. and Dorothy H. Dewar College of Education. Students in the inaugural class have made great gains in their standardized assessments and coursework. Now in its fourth year, VECA has 145 students in grades six through nine, all of them identified as having risk factors for dropping out of high school.

Located in the former S.L. Mason Elementary School facility on Azalea Drive, VECA is a school within the Valdosta City School System that works in partnership with VSU. Students earn both a high school diploma and up to 60 semester hours of college credit by the end of their senior year. The target population for VECA includes low-income, first-generation high school/college students who are struggling learners with potential. The students have access to many VSU resources and are considered part of the university community of learners. Each year, two classes of sixth graders are admitted. By 2014-2015, VECA will boast 250 students in grades six through 12.

“There are stories of students being changed forever because of the experience of going to VECA, of families that have a new outlook on life, and of parents that are now working on their GEDs because their kids are in VECA and they see the potential their children now have to go to college and have a better life than they experienced,” said Gerber. “It has provided much hope that their lives can still be better and that education is a key to start down that path. So, in a nutshell, I have been overwhelmed by the personal stories and personal interactions I have had with all of the people involved. It has been an immensely rewarding experience to go from paper and pencil thoughts to changing the lives of real people. This has been more positive than I could have ever imagined.”

Georgia currently has 11 partnerships between public school systems and colleges and universities, having started the Early College program in 2005. The program targets students who are traditionally underrepresented in higher education, such as low-income minority students and first-generation college students.

According to the University System of Georgia, 90 percent of the students in the Early College program graduate from high school.

To learn more about Valdosta Early College Academy, please contact Ingrid Hall, principal, at (229) 671-8455 or ihall@gocats.org or visit www.gocats.org.