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What's changing, what's being saved during Early College at Jones renovations
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Terry Lord, superintendent for the site with Carol Daniel, inspects air vents in what will become a conference room at Early College at Jones on Tuesday, June 18, 2019. - photo by Austin Steele

Gutted walls, exposed ceiling pipes and ripped-up flooring are telltale signs of a renovation in progress.

But it can be difficult to picture what the end result will look like.

Imagination is necessary.  

So, too, is money.

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Edgar Navarro, left, and Charles Walker, right, work on light installation in what will be a science lab at Early College at Jones on Tuesday, June 18, 2019. - photo by Austin Steele

Officials with Hall County Schools have conjured something big for the Early College at Jones, a dual-enrollment program site located in the Chicopee Mill neighborhood of Gainesville.

And they’ve budgeted about $800,000 to make it real in time for the start of the 2019-20 school year in August.

The demand is evident. And making more space available while increasing the quality of curriculum has been a priority for school officials.

The dual-enrollment school, which partners with Brenau University, the University of North Georgia and Lanier Technical College, allows Hall County students to earn college credit and certificates as they complete a high school diploma.

Superintendent Will Schofield said in January when the board of education approved the funding that Early College has been one of the most successful programs he’s seen in over 30 years working in education.

Students there had a 98.5 percent pass rate in the fall 2018 semester, and more than 1,600 college credits have been earned by dual-enrollment students.

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The gym at Early College at Jones will receive new lights during renovations at the school. - photo by Austin Steele

Moreover, 51% of Early College participants become first-generation college students, as many enrollees are from immigrant families.

The Newcomer Academy, which serves as an intensive immersion program for immigrant students of high school age, will remain operating at the site.

And 52 percent of Early College students come from low-income households.

In all, for the 2018-19 school year, there were 603 students in dual enrollment  programs across eight Hall County high schools.

Students who attend Early College still have a “home” high school that they also attend for many regular, core classes. Bus transportation is provided between school sites.

Michele Hood, dean of Early College, said she expects the number of students utilizing the renovated site for dual-enrollment studies to increase to more than 400 when it reopens, up from about 250 last school year.

“Hall County (Schools) does an amazing job providing opportunities” that are unique and individualized for students, Hood added, from career pathway studies to STEM- or art-oriented curriculums, to work-based study and dual-enrollment programs.

At Early College, students can begin working toward careers in nursing, criminal justice, graphic design and early childhood education, among other areas.

The old brick school formerly housed pre-kindergarten classes, but those have now been incorporated into local elementary schools.

Meanwhile, repurposing classrooms, administrative offices and other space is transforming Early College into a model for dual-enrollment programs by bringing teachers and resources directly to students.

“We make sure it’s a win-win for everyone involved, most importantly for students,” Hood said. “It helps them figure out college before they’re on their own.”

The renovations include updates to eight classrooms, including additional technology, marker boards, furniture and other materials.

The gymnasium is also being refurbished with LED lighting, a sound system, and other audio and visual equipment. The multi-function space will also allow Early College to better accommodate parent-teacher meetings and other after-school events, as will a newly rehabbed conference room.

The school will also feature a brand-new student center, with a café and outdoor dining and mingling area. It’s also a space for collaboration, where tutors and mentors are available. Finally, the new funding will allow for the construction of a fully operational, college-level science laboratory for biology, chemistry and physics classes, with the potential to also establish a community clinic to both train students and serve the public.  

A few touches, however, are the result of having remaining untouched.

For example, old wooden cabinetry and doors, the color of a 1970s-era ski lodge, it seems, are being kept as testaments to the school’s long history.

“This is such a historical school we want to leave that intact,” Hood said.

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