a person at graduation
Valedictorian Maura Peaden addresses the Columbia ECHS Class of 2021. Peaden earned both an Associate in Science and an Associate in Arts from BCCC.

Columbia Early College High School celebrates Class Of 2021

Not even days of rain could stop Columbia Early College High School from celebrating the Class of 2021. The saturation of the high school’s football field forced the school to move the in-person graduation to the Tyrrell County 4H Center. The dual enrollment program is a collaboration between Columbia High School and Beaufort County Community College (BCCC). The school presented 42 students with high school diplomas, four of whom received associate's degrees through BCCC.

Dr. James Jones Jr. delivered the graduation address, and students received their diplomas from Superintendent Oliver Holley and Principal William Ziegler. Students who also earned degrees through BCCC had participated in a larger ceremony with graduates from the college and other early college high school students on May 13. The BCCC graduates are headed off to four-year universities, with three of them headed to East Carolina University for nursing and one headed to Meredith College for psychology.

Graduates were recognized for different achievements at the ceremony. Those wearing black robes had completed an associate’s degree. Caylee Armstrong, Maura Peaden, Sarai Santibanez-Castaneda, and Catie Spruill all received degrees through BCCC. Three quarters of the Class of 2021 took at least one course through BCCC, free credits that will transfer to a university or a community college. Some students will stay for a fifth year with the opportunity to complete an associate’s degree or to take more college courses.

Caylee Armstrong earned an Associate in Arts, and she plans to attend ECU to study nursing.

Catie Spruill earned an Associate in Science and will attend Meredith College to study psychology.

Maura Peaden earned an Associate in Science and an Associate in Arts. Peaden received the President’s Award for Academic Excellence, and she was the Class of 2021's valedictorian. She now heads to ECU to study nursing. In her acceptance speech, she talked about being new to the tight-knit community and then challenges of taking college and high school classes only to then have to do so during a pandemic.

Sarai Santibanez-Castaneda earned an Associate in Science and plans to attend ECU for nursing. She received the President’s Award for Education Excellence. During her acceptance speech, she shared the upheavals of her last year. She was chronically ill, and her doctors diagnosed her with cancer. She is currently still being monitored, but she said that she was cancer-free.

Honors graduates included Jacob Fauth, Brent Hassell, Maura Peaden, Sarai Santibanez-Castaneda, and Catie Spruill.

Dual-enrollment students are a large part of the community college landscape. BCCC also partners with Beaufort County Early College High School, Washington County Early College High School and Mattamuskeet Early College High School and qualified students from all area high schools can take free college classes through Career and College Promise.

Early college high school students go to high school classes for their first two years, later transitioning to taking college classes just like any other college students, sometimes online or through broadcast classes. Columbia Early College High School gives students the option to graduate high school after four years or stay for a fifth year to take free college classes with the opportunity to leave with a high school diploma and an associate’s degree.

Through the Beaufort Promise, BCCC is covering all tuition and fees for students through Spring 2023. The Class of 2021 is encouraged to use the program to finish or start an associate’s degree through BCCC.