The start of this school year is special for the county’s lone charter school – Neuse Charter has welcomed its first senior class.
When it opened eight years ago, in 2005, Neuse Charter offered classes for kindergarten through fifth grade. After that, the school essentially added a grade every year. Now, for the first time, some of those students have reached their senior year.
“It’s pretty exciting obviously because it’s an innovative time for us,” said Joel Erby, principal of Neuse Charter’s high school. “We’re transitioning into a full K-12 school now.”
The senior class is only 28 students, and it’s the small class sizes that makes the difference, parents and students say. The whole school is around 740 students, with the high school at 160, Erby said. Students from anywhere in the state can enroll, but most come from Smithfield, Clayton and Four Oaks. Because demand for spots is high, admission is through a lottery system.
Also this year, the school will start construction of its high school building. Since the first crop of seniors wont get to use the building, they will make a time capsule that will be enclosed there. “So that way, in 10, 15 years they can come back and still be a part of the building,” Erby said.
Neuse Charter currently houses its students in modular buildings. Three years ago, the school moved from Selma to land on Booker Dairy Road near Smithfield-Selma High School.
Neuse Charter offers multiple tracks for seniors, and some are already working with the Career and College Promise program at Johnston Community College. Students planning on going to a four-year university are in a senior seminar to help prepare for applications and college life.
Miranda Phipps, a senior who started at Neuse Charter in the eighth grade, said she feels like the school has prepared her for college, though she is nervous about the transition. The school’s senior seminar, she said, is helping her, teaching skills ranging from filling out a financial aid application to good college study habits.
Phipps said she would recommend the school to others. “It’s a better education experience than public schools,” she said. “You get more one-on-one attention with the teachers if you need it. It’s individualized.”
Phipps said the specialized education, including Chinese and Latin, also makes a difference, as do the smaller class sizes, which allow students to get to know one another. “It’s a place where you can feel safe, and no one is going to hurt you,” she said. “Bullying is not tolerated at all here. The education is top-notch. It’s just an amazing experience to be here; you have so many different opportunities, like field trips and stuff that other schools don’t have.”
Erby said the school is working to make sure its seniors have a normal senior experience. The school will host a traditional commencement ceremony, and the faculty will wear robes, he said. The year opened with a senior parade, and senior pictures will begin soon.
“All of the activities that seniors at any other school get to experience, our students are getting to experience them right now,” Erby said. “So it’s an awesome time. You can see the joy on their faces.”
Senior Jarrod Sealey agreed with his principal. “We’re still getting a good senior experience, and we’re throwing our own Neuse swing on things, so we’re having fun here,” Sealey said.
Sealey transferred last year from Cleveland High School because he was looking for a better education and a different social experience. He said Neuse Charter offers more freedom and has a better curriculum. “You really do learn on your own,” he said. “And the teachers, there’s less of us, so they have a more personal connection with us.”
Wayne Sealey, Jarrod’s father, also praised the small class sizes and teachers. “Everybody really gets the attention they need,” he said.
Wayne Sealey said the school has prepared his son for college, especially with the senior seminar. “I wish I had this class,” he said. “A class like this is actually helping them with life skills, because it’s teaching them about organization; accountability, which is important in the workforce; responsibility, as well as helping them get through the paperwork and the process of it all.”
Beth Miller, one of two teachers for the senior seminar, said the seniors are a great group to work with. “This is my 18th year teaching,” she said, “so it’s very exciting to be involved in the first of a senior class.”