In August of 2015, three Leesville students left the Loonies to join the North Carolina School of Science and Mathematics. These three juniors–Abbott Gaddy, Ellie Taylor, and Yesle Hahn–knew they were entering a new environment. But they didn’t know just how much the values instilled in them during their tenure at Leesville would affect their futures.
Leesville is a public high school with close to 2500 students, pulled from the surrounding areas in North Raleigh. Leesville has nearly 200 faculty and staff, and the classes tend to focus on general education.
On the other hand, the North Carolina School of Science and Mathematics (NCSSM) was founded to act as a premier upperclassmen experience to accelerate the amount of research and discovery done in North Carolina. Sophomores apply, and the best students in the state attend the free boarding school in order to receive a higher education. NCSSM boasts small class sizes, a low student-teacher ratio, and acts a simulation for college. Most importantly, the school offers specialized classes like genetics or computational biology.
The students themselves choose NCSSM for a variety of reasons. Gaddy, as a sophomore, “chose NCSSM mostly because I wanted a new experience,”; Taylor chose the school because of the opportunities it provided.
Coming out of NCSSM, students filter into STEM fields at three times the national average, and half the graduates receive some form of a post-graduate degree–nearly five times the national average. Further, the school offers–and expects–research and travel opportunities. Most students engage in undergraduate level research while in high school.
Taylor was originally attracted to NCSSM for the school’s unique programs named Mentorship and Miniterm. Mentorship allows seniors to conduct research at a nearby institution, like NC State, Duke, or UNC.
“Mentorship has allowed me to work in the gastrointestinal physiology lab at the NC State vet school,” said Taylor. This lab strengthened her desire to go to vet school, as well as helping her learn about animal science research, different lab techniques, and gain connections at the vet school.
Miniterm is a week and a half period in the middle of the school year to shake-up the student’s lives. Students are encouraged to study something unusual or travel across the globe.
“Miniterm has allowed me to travel to Ecuador and the Galapagos to study biodiversity and equator physics,” said Taylor. “This trip was the trip of a lifetime and it has been really cool to see the things I learned in my physics and biology classes put into action.”
NCSSM combines college academics and independence with high school teens–meaning that these students need to be uniquely mature and self-determined. Therefore, the way the students are shaped before they get to NCSSM plays a large role in how they do. Their elementary, middle, and first part of their high school experience influences their character and determination to a large degree.
Enter Leesville Road High School. Leesville’s mascot is the Pride, a pun about both the pack of lions and the character trait, showing how important character is at Leesville. Leesville has a strong and important honor code and many Leesville clubs and honor societies expel students for misbehaving. Leesville’s National Honor Society promotes good behavior and service; Key Club promotes helping those around you. Other clubs, like Model UN and Political Club, promote argumentative prowess and leadership. English classes freshman and sophomore year promote independent thought and make students learn on their own. Paideia classes enable students to discuss ideas, establishing new connections and helping rhetorical skills develop.
For Gaddy and Taylor, the Leesville experience built a foundation for them to expand on at NCSSM.
Taylor describes her two years at Leesville as especially formative.
“The classes I took at Leesville helped push me in the direction that I wanted to go. It provided me with knowledge that I was later able to expand on at NCSSM,” said Taylor. NCSSM offers extremely specialized courses, so a student knowing what field they want to enter makes their life a lot easier.
“For example, after taking Honors Biology and Honors English I, I realized that science was for me–and words were not,” said Taylor, talking about how her stint at Leesville allowed her to filter out some classes and career paths.
Leesville also helped Taylor reflect on the perks of a public school–a wide, diverse student body with large athletic events and social functions.
“I definitely miss going to football games and pep rallies, along with a lot of other social events that Leesville offered. These are the types of things that I look forward to in college,” said Taylor.
Meanwhile, Gaddy sees a clear function of her time at Leesville. Through participation in Model UN, Gaddy learned how to be a strong leader.
“Leesville taught me a lot about leadership, both how to become a leader and how to be an effective one,” said Gaddy. This skill of leadership enabled her to lead research teams, as well as play on the varsity softball team and act as a residential life assistant, NCSSM’s high-school version of a college RA.
Gaddy believes that the combination of Leesville and NCSSM have prepared her for college. However, she finds it difficult to draw a line between what she learned from each school.
“It’s hard for me to separate what I gained from Leesville from what I gained from NCSSM because everything I learned from Leesville I have used and built upon here at NCCSM,” said Gaddy.
Just like the rest of us, Gaddy doesn’t yet know what the future will bring. However, she does know that she has been well trained for college, post-graduate, and the workforce.
“I have already been able to apply these skills and I know that they will continue to help me in the future.”