Health Team

Wake high school seniors earn college degrees

Posted June 23, 2010
Updated June 24, 2010

— The Wake Early College of Health and Sciences graduated its first class this spring. The graduates not only earned high school diplomas but two-year college degrees focused on health and sciences.

The school was formed four years ago through collaboration with the Wake County Public School System, Wake Technical Community College and WakeMed. It is designed to give students a head start on health care jobs.

Students in the program, which is free, shadow health care professionals in their field of interest.

“Not a single one of these students had to pay a dime for any of that exposure. This is being paid for as part of their education in the Wake County School System,” WakeMed CEO Bill Atkinson said of the program.

Students enrolled in the school follow an integrated curriculum of high school and college courses, allowing them to simultaneously earn a high school diploma and a two-year associate degree. Students can also choose to transfer their college credits to a four-year college or university.

All rising ninth-graders are eligible to apply for admission, but the school is competitive.

“You're going to have to do a lot of hard work to keep up with the work that you have to do in early college," said 16-year-old Ravi Dixit, who wants to be an oncologist.

The school holds no end-of-year dances and has no sporting teams.

“If you're really into sports and things like that, I wouldn't advise coming to this school,” said 17-year-old Emily Edquist, who wants to be a pharmacist.

But students said the fewer distractions help them succeed academically.

“When you're surrounded by people who really want to get far in life, it's a lot easier to focus,” said 16-year-old Brianna Henson, who wants to work in the orthopedics field.

Students get hands-on health care training through program Students get hands-on health care training through program

Job shadowing and internship experiences are also offered through WakeMed to provide students the hands-on experience needed to secure a job in the health and sciences field.

As part of the program, 16-year-old Hussein Ahmad, who wants to be a heart surgeon, is volunteering in WakeMed's cardiac testing unit. He said he appreciates the on-the-job experience.

“I think it's a great opportunity to get to know the environment a lot better and get some more exposure, more hands on activity that will better prepare me for my future ambitions,” he said.

The 2010 class graduated 39 students, 17 of them with two-year associate degree and 17 others planning to pursue advanced college degrees.


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  • Lost and Loaded Jun 30, 2010

    Great program for the select few who qualify and have it available. But who pays for it? We the public do and I believe we would be better served to have more remedial programs for the weaker students and vocational programs for the less academically inclined than focusing resources on those who are capable of graduating high school early. The drop-out rate and illiteracy rate and crime rate among our youth are growing - we need to make those people productive and useful citizens first. These self motivated kids can do it on their and should rely on traditional colleges and their financial support structure instead of spending limited county funds.

  • calstn Jun 28, 2010

    My son will be an incoming freshman in the fall for Wake Early College and I am excited about him being able to take advantage of such an incredible educational opportunity!

  • jp11 Jun 28, 2010

    Great idea.

  • maydaymanny Jun 24, 2010

    Excellent. Love hearing about these programs. I am a little concerned about who is paying for them versus who gets "in" but the concept is great.

  • wildcat Jun 24, 2010


  • wake_up_jeff_0 Jun 24, 2010

    What about the other 5 students?

  • babbleon Jun 24, 2010

    Congratulations to the students!

    This is a great program, and a good direction for schools to take. My husband and I were just debating whether 4 years of college at public schools should be free (he's pro, I'm cautious). My biggest concern was paying for it, so the furthest I would go was 2 years at community college, preferably integrated with high schools. I didn't know about this program, but it is exactly the sort of thing I was thinking about.

    Now we just need to 1) get the drop out rate down and 2) get every student interested in something like this.

    One objection I've heard is that it's too early to choose a career. Nowadays, graduating seniors can expect 2 or 3 careers; I'm on my second, and expect a third (IT geek, MBA/business analyst, hope to teach). We will be constantly learning all our lives now, so trying one career early doesn't mean you can't change later.

  • MileageDontTakeYourKidsCrap Jun 24, 2010

    “When you're surrounded by people who really want to get far in life, it's a lot easier to focus,” said 16-year-old Brianna Henson, who wants to work in the orthopedics field."

    BINGO. Bright girl with a smart head on her shoulders. I'd imagine the drop out rate, teen pregnancy rate, number of fights, and percentage of kids using drugs are all much much lower than in typical high schools.

  • MileageDontTakeYourKidsCrap Jun 24, 2010

    this is a great start. once vocational high schools start coming into the mix, we'll be even better off.

  • jljtheraven Jun 24, 2010

    I love the concept of these schools and the fact that the kids earn a degree. But this caught my attention:

    “When you're surrounded by people who really want to get far in life, it's a lot easier to focus,” said 16-year-old Brianna Henson..."

    There lies the issue with charter, private, and exclusive public schools like this one. The kids are there because they want to be there and the parents are supportive. It's no wonder that those schools are successful. Public schools get bashed a lot on this board and on the N&O board, but no one takes into account that public schools have to deal with hordes of kids who have no desire to be educated and who do not care that they disrupt others' education. Until we solve this fundamental social issue, public schools will continue to struggle.