At the Howard E. Ivester Early College, high school students strut through the halls with confidence, bury their noses into work in the study rooms and grab a quick bite to eat between classes.
The Early College, which is located in the Chicopee Mill area of Gainesville, gives students the opportunity to earn college credit and certificates while completing a high school diploma. It’s technically dual enrollment but instead of taking classes with college students, the high school students are taught by college professors — from the University of North Georgia, Brenau University and Lanier Technical College — on their own campus with other high school students.
It’s hard for newcomers to imagine the building was once filled with rambunctious young children when it served as Jones Elementary School.
Michele Hood, dean of the Early College, said morphing the former elementary school into a college atmosphere couldn’t have been possible without the continuous investment of Hall County Schools, the facility’s college partners and individuals in the community.
The most recent investment in the school was made Aug. 12, when the Melvin Douglas and Victoria Kay Ivester Foundation committed $2.2 million for the Early College.
That is on top of $800,000 in facility renovations made this past summer that was budgeted through Hall County Schools.
Just in time for the fall 2019 semester, storage areas and other spaces were transformed into a student center, conference room, biology lab and study rooms. The Early College also added technology and desks to multiple classrooms.
“Before it was very comfortable, but I see that the upgrades have made more of a positive environment and experience for both faculty and students that come here,” Alan Boyer,
Lanier Technical College public speaking instructor, said. “The combined classrooms make it feel larger, and with the student center, we’ve increased the number of places where they can get work done.”
Micaela Escamilla, a Flowery Branch High School senior, has attended the Early College since her freshman year. Each year she has seen the student population jump by nearly 75%.
The school launched in 2016 with 118 students. For the fall 2019 semester, 430 students have enrolled in the program.
When Escamilla came to the school her freshman year, she said it only had two areas for studying and working with others.
“Now coming here there are so many spots I go into,” she said. “A bunch of students are interacting with each other, and they don’t even go to the same school. And I think that’s really cool.”
Escamilla said not only has the Early College changed, but she has seen growth within herself. She feels more confident and prepared to take on college.
Boyer said in his public speaking class, he sees a drastic shift in his students’ mentalities over a semester.
“The motivation for me is to watch them grow over the course of the semester,” he said. “Usually they come in shy, but by the end they’ve built their confidence and they really shine.”
Jo-Ann Crawley, adjunct nurse aid instructor from Lanier Tech, said she has never worked in a more supportive atmosphere for students and teachers.
Although she sets the bar high for her students, she said they’re always keen to rise to the challenge.
“This is my investment in health care,” Crawley said. “One of these days I’m not going to be able to do what I do now. When I look up from my wheelchair or bed and see one of them, I know I’ll be fine because I know their heart. They’re good kids.”
Hood said each year the Early College finds a new way to accommodate the needs of students and families. This might entail adding more classes and instructors or renovating the building.
The Ivester donation hasn’t been designated for a specific purpose yet, but Hood said she knows its impact will be great.
“When you invest in students, you invest in families of Hall County and that affects generations,” she said. “You are changing the stars for a lot of students. You are helping them figure out their passions and figure out how to manage college.”
An earlier version of this story incorrectly described the nature of the school as it relates to dual enrollment.