When two schools are better than one

Susan Parker and daughter Carley, NCSSM Online Class of 2015, at their Lexington, NC, home.

Susan Parker and her daughter, Carley, still laugh about the look on the Wake Forest University admissions officer’s face when he asked Carley about her high school. “Which one?” she asked him, “I go to two schools.” The teenager offers plenty of accomplishments to spark a college’s interest: She’s excelled at school despite severe hearing impairment since early childhood, she’s preached at her home church for several years, she earned her certified nursing assistant designation as a high school senior. But her dual enrollment at West Davidson High School and in the online program at North Carolina School of Science and Mathematics caught the admissions officer by surprise – and likely helped her win a full-tuition scholarship to Wake Forest.

“I had already doubled up on sciences in my sophomore year of high school,” Carley explains. “Going into the spring of my junior year and senior year, I would have struggled to find classes and stay engaged in school.” A Davidson County online specialist knew of Carley’s interests in math and science and steered her to NCSSM Online. She completed her application over winter break of sophomore year and got accepted into NCSSM Online in the spring.

In the fall of her junior year she began by taking Forensic Accident Investigation online, through a media lab at West Davidson High. She balanced the coursework with four West Davidson classes, volleyball practice every afternoon, church activities, and more. In her senior year, Carley took two classes online each semester (including calculus and biogenetics) along with two classes at West Davidson High. She also earned her CNA (certified nursing assistant) qualification at Davidson Community College; she plans to study pre-medicine at Wake Forest. “I like to be busy,” she says.

Carley sees NCSSM Online as “really more rigorous than [NCSSM’s] residential program,” because students who remain at their home high schools still balance chores at home, classes in school, and other extracurricular activities along with the online courses. The online course time is supplemented by online review time with the instructors and classmates, email correspondence, and scheduled weekend visits to the Durham campus.

Carley enjoyed getting to know online and residential peers through her on-campus visits and through Accelerator enrichment courses that she took on campus last summer, her first time staying away from her Lexington, N.C., home. This past May, she attended NCSSM’s prom at the Museum of Life and Science. “We just geeked out for three hours, playing with the fog machines and building Legos,” she remembers with a laugh.

“I actually have more friends at NCSSM than at West Davidson. There’s not a lot of drama with my NCSSM friends. We know that we all go to that school for a common purpose, that we are intellectually gifted and motivated. We had to apply and be accepted to get there, and we don’t give up.”

Susan Parker has watched her daughter strengthen her time management skills and perseverance these last two years, particularly as she sweated her way through online calculus. “She’s learned so much, she’s been so dedicated,” Susan says.

A teaching assistant and job coach at West Davidson High, Susan has spent years advocating for her daughter and educating school officials along the way about Carley’s hearing impairment. She is thrilled with her daughter’s experiences at NCSSM and how they led to her admittance to Wake Forest.

“I can’t express how grateful I am,” Susan says. “There’s no way she could have gotten what she needed through her home high school. The whole thing has been amazing.”

Carley, too, feels gratitude. “At first, the headphones at West Davidson didn’t work for the online class. I contacted Ms. Betz [online learning specialist at NCSSM] to ask for help, and she sent a new pair of headphones right away. It’s the first time someone hasn’t given me a hassle about it. I never made a phone call to NCSSM that I didn’t get a call back.”

In all, NCSSM Online “was a tremendous experience,” Carley says. “I wouldn’t have known what to do with high school otherwise. And it definitely paid off.”