By Kim Underwood Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Schools
MAY 9 – Thanks to going to Early College of Forsyth, Brianna Gaillard will graduate from high school at noon on Thursday and from Forsyth Tech later the same day.
“I came because I thought it would be a really good opportunity,” Gaillard said.
And it proved to be just that. “I am very glad I came,” she said.
Early College is a partnership between the school system and Forsyth Technical Community College that enables students to earn an associate’s degree while they’re high school students. Although students have the option of taking five years to complete the process, most members of the school’s first graduating class won’t need that extra year.
Gaillard is one of 46 seniors – out of a class of 50 - who completed the requirements for both a high school diploma and an associate’s degree in only four years, the time it normally takes to finish high school.
“We really accelerated them,” said Fran Cook, the principal.
Gaillard will enter East Carolina University as a junior. After completing an undergraduate degree in nursing there, she plans to enroll in East Carolina’s physician’s assistant graduate program. Teachers and administrators at Early College describe Gaillard as a strong student who is consistently positive and who treats everyone well.
“Gaillard is probably one of the most optimistic teenagers I have met,” said Martha Pearce, Forsyth Tech’s liaison to Early College.
“She is very giving and very community-service oriented,” Cook said.
Gaillard’s classmates voted her prom queen. “She is really well-liked,” said Diane Morrow, who teaches English. “I can never imagine her excluding anyone.”
Gaillard chose Early College because she knew she wanted to go to college after high school, she said. “I thought this was going to be the best way to get a jump start on that.”
At Early College, students don’t have to pay tuition at Forsyth Tech. Although Gaillard knew that going to Early College would save her and her family money, it’s only now that she’s getting ready to go on to East Carolina that she is coming fully to appreciate all the benefits of the program, she said. It’s not only the money saved but also how prepared she feels for the next step.
“We know what you have to do to be successful,” she said.
Early College, which is completing its fourth year, has about 250 students. During their freshman and, for the most part, sophomore years, students take classes only with their fellow high school students. For any college courses, the Forsyth Tech professors come to them.
“They treat them just like college students,” Cook said.
In their junior year – or, in some cases, the second semester of their sophomore year - they join the wider Forsyth Tech world, taking classes with regular college students. Gaillard said that some of her fellow Forsyth Tech students learned that she is a high school student only when it came out in conversation. “Some of them are shocked.”
Often, Morrow said, students come to Early College not quite sure what to expect. Some are there to save money or, perhaps, because it’s something their parents want. Others like the idea of something different than a traditional high school. Once there, they find that the school’s size and supportive environment helps them to thrive.
“It’s a small enough environment that it allows a lot of them to shine,” Morrow said.
And being in college classes helps them mature, she said. “I think it really does lead to individual responsibility.”
Since she was 4, Gaillard has lived with her grandparents. On Saturdays, she helps out at her grandmother’s kiosk in Marketplace Mall – Sheila’s Avon. Gaillard started elementary school at Latham (now Diggs-Latham). In the second grade, she transferred to Bolton Elementary. She went to Clemmons Middle School, and, when it was time for high school, she picked Early College.
From wanting to be a princess when she was little – not the “my way or the highway” kind of princess, she said, but the sweet kind - she moved on to wanting to be a marine biologist.
“I have always been in love with dolphins,” she said.
The summer after her sophomore year, she participated in biotechnology program. It gave her a taste of what being a physician’s assistant might be like, and she liked what she saw. In 2008, Gaillard was diagnosed with scoliosis (side-to-side curvature of the spine) and had surgery to implant two steel rods. Wanting to help others with such issues, she is thinking about specializing in orthopedics, the branch of medicine that deals with problems associated with the skeletal system. Pediatrics would be good, too.
One way or the other, she knows she wants to be of service. “I really like being around people,” Gaillard said.