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Davin Gardner, a 16-year-old student at Village Christian Academy, earned college credit before his junior year. He took two courses offered at Fayetteville Technical Community College last school year at the private K-12 Christian school. He passed both.

“I’ve learned how to write better than I did before, and I think it would help you excel while getting college credit as well,” Gardner said.

Gardner is one of hundreds of students in Cumberland County enrolled in High School Connections (HSC). The local branch of a state program, called Career and College Promise, allows high school students to take college courses and earn credit to obtain an associate degree, diploma, certificate and more from an institution in the North Carolina Community College system.


Davin Gardner [Photo/Brad Losh]

The program, originally geared toward junior and senior students, is now open for 9th and 10th-graders attending public and private high schools in Cumberland County and its namesake school system. Most students complete HSC requirements before or when they graduate. John Green, a career coach with FTCC’s High School Connections program, says offering courses to younger students provides them with more opportunities to determine what they want to do and more time to do so before graduating.

“This is a supplement to their instruction to keep students engaged,” he added. “With 10th graders, the way things are advancing, to be able to come out of high school with a certificate or the front end of classes before they start college, it’s much more appealing.”

HSC courses are offered in addition to standard, honors and AP courses at high schools in the county.

Village Christian Academy, in Fayetteville, is the first school in the county to offer HSC courses to its freshman and sophomore students. Gardner’s motivations for enrolling in HSC stemmed from his want to earn an associate degree quicker. He plans to study engineering at North Carolina State University. This summer, he participated in an eight-day program called National Youth Leadership Engineering, which was hosted by Envision, a company providing nearly 20 different career, leadership and technology programs across the world for students.

“It’s a win-win, teaching you discipline and time management,” he said.


From left to right, Davin Gardner, Bianca and Isabella Rietkerk talk inside the gym at their high school, Village Christian Academy. All three students are enrolled in FTCC’s High School Connections program. [Photo/Brad Losh]

Ninth and 10th grade students will take fewer HSC courses, a way to ease them into the rigors of the program. For example, 9th graders can only take up to two courses such as Writing and Inquiry (ENG 111) and Public Speaking (COM-231). The academy also provides students with a study period to complete classwork for HSC courses. Deborah Bailey, a K-12 Guidance Counselor for Village Christian Academy, said seven 10th-graders enrolled in the program last year. Four ninth graders are currently enrolled in HSC for 2021-2022.

Those sophomore students earned As and Bs in the HSC courses, a reassurance for Bailey.

“I know the students can handle workloads, but is it going to be overwhelming?” Bailey asked herself. The idea to offer HSC courses to more students came from Program Coordinator Aaron Mabe and was approved by the academy’s administration.

Bailey added, “But they loved the classes, they loved doing it. They are taking high level classes that challenge and helps them with their GPA. I’ve been pleased with the support I get from the career coaches. Its been a great partnership for us.”


Bianca Rietkerk [Photo/Brad Losh]

Sisters Bianca and Isabella Rietkerk, 15 and 14 years old respectively, will take HSC courses for the first time this year. They enrolled in the program for the same reasons as Davin: to earn an associate degree faster. Bianca noted attending a 4-year-institution may be expensive for her family because she and Isabella plan to continue their education after high school. 

“When I was at [my former high school], I heard kids talk about taking AP classes and saving thousands of dollars compared to taking it in college, and I took that with me,” Bianca said about coming to the academy. “This is a good opportunity.”

“I want to be an aerospace engineer, and my mom wants me to pursue law,” Bianca said. She paused, allowing a brief laugh to escape between her words. She was reminded how common it is for parents and children to have different career aspirations.

“Flying and sending rockets into space, I thought that was cool,” Bianca said. “I’ve wanted to be an engineer since I was little.”

On the other hand, Isabella wants to pursue pediatrics. She’s excited about taking HSC courses while wondering if she’s prepared for the challenge. She passed geometry honors as an eighth grader and also plays soccer at the academy.

“I think this year’s going to be really good,” Isabella said. “I am excited to graduate with my associate degree [someday] and save money for college.”

High School Connections is currently offered in 33 public, private and homeschools throughout Cumberland County. The program has been around since before 2014. Learn more and apply for High School Connections here


Isabella Rietkerk [Photo/Brad Losh]

Read more success stories from students who previously enrolled into High School Connections below:

“Grace Gore named finalist for prestigious STEM scholarship at NC State”

Grace Gore named finalist for prestigious STEM scholarship at NC State


“High School Connections ‘ a tremendous blessing’ for Autry family”

High School Connections “a tremendous blessing” for Autry family


“High school student’s graduation also marks a first for an FTCC program”

High school student’s graduation also marks a first for an FTCC program