Early College: A day in the life

From the perspective of high school underclassmen, the divide between the Early College at Guilford (ECG) and Guilford College seems nearly impenetrable. I recall clearly the few conversations I had with college students before becoming an upperclassman and thus able to take courses at the college level.

The first occurred outside the Grill, during our 45-minute lunch period. Several of my friends were making the most of our scant time by slipping Mentos after Mentos into a bottle of Coke. An older girl slouched next to us, smoking a cigarette.

“So you guys are Early College, huh?” she asked.

I nodded, surprised at this newfound contact. My friends snickered as the soda began to fizz.

She looked me up and down. “So are you guys, like, geniuses?” she asked. Behind me, the Coke bottle exploded, showering both of us with tiny fizzing drops.

“No,” I said.

***

We’re not geniuses. At least, most of us aren’t. We run the gamut of intelligence; in my time at Early College I’ve seen as many different definitions of “smart” as there are students. Back-row slackers display casual brilliance, physics naturals flunk their history assignments, and several of the ordinary stalwarts earn straight A’s through sheer dedication rather than academic flair.

We vary wildly in appearance, too, but those who can pass for college students generally try their best to do so.

Some of us have a whole passel of college friends; others attempt to be as invisible as possible.

In the past, ECG students have dated college students, some without telling them, others with full disclosure. How far one sinks into the college life is a personal decision, colored by appearance, grades, maturity, and other factors.

This is a major concern for faculty. As a seven-year-old experiment put in place by former superintendent Terry Grier, other school systems look to us for signs of trouble, gauging whether or not we are successful, well-adjusted guinea pigs.

So far, the experiment has turned out stellar results. For an input of enthusiastic, overachieving high school students, one receives . enthusiastic, overachieving college students.

ECG has ranked both 14th and 21st on Newsweek Magazine’s annual list of the top 100 high schools in the nation, and was 17th on U.S. News and World Report’s “Best high schools of 2009.” The 2007 graduating class garnered $5,410,680 in scholarships and awards. A 100 percent graduation rate has been maintained since the inception of the school.

***

Most of the class offers statistics along these lines when asked. But much of the time, others want to know about the day-to-day experience of being an Early College student. Attempting to explain this is similar to trying to describe Mozart to the deaf.

For one thing, the ECG experience alters drastically over four years. Underclassmen remain in the modular classrooms located outside the Frank Family Science Center, taking four years of high school credit in a challenging two-year period.

Upperclassmen, however, receive dual lives along with our dual enrollment. Like Britney, not a girl, not yet a woman, we are often unsure how to classify ourselves.

“It depends on the day,” said one Early College junior, who preferred to remain anonymous. “(In general) I feel more like a college student, because we have a lot more freedom than most high school students.”

Out of all the ECG students I contacted, not a single one wanted their name printed. It says something about how sensitive identity becomes when it can determine how smoothly your academic career goes.

In the classroom, and often outside of it, most of us prefer anonymity.

“If they don’t know I’m Early College, they do (treat me like a college student). When they first find out, they might start acting condescending,” said the student.

I played the no-name game, too, for a while. Today, I’d rather not go through the whole song-and-dance.

It irritates me that so many find their views drastically changed once they discover that I’m a high school student, as though it is a personal affront that I’ve disrupted their neat categories.

I’d much rather your opinion of me be based on who I am, rather than who you believe me to be.