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Shaheem Davis (left) and Taeshon Batchelor (right) listen as Evelio Pecaz reads a story he wrote in Deliah Dixon’s fifth-grade class at Pinkston Street Elementary School.

Classmates listen as seventh-grader Spotswood Burwell (center) gives his opinion during a group discussion exercise in Emily Cirino’s seventh-grade English class at Henderson Collegiate.

Two elementary schools in Vance County have earned the Reward Schools award, which honors schools nationwide for the 2013-2014 school year.

Pinkston Street Elementary School and charter school Henderson Collegiate were among the top 10 percent of Title I schools in one of two categories: having sustained the highest performance in student achievement for multiple years or having made the most progress in improving student achievement over multiple years.

Heddie Alston Somerville remembers her days as a teacher at Pinkston Street Elementary School in the late 1990s when the school ranked among the worst in the state.

She was a novice teacher then but, as a native of Vance County, she was all too familiar with the community she served.

As a student in Vance County schools, she remembers the encouragement she received from a teacher who pushed her to attend college.

“If he wouldn’t have planted that seed in my mind, I wouldn’t have thought it was possible to go to college,” said Somerville, who in now the principal at Pinkston Street.

Somerville said her school has seen more resources, training and collaboration since the school was ranked as one of the lowest performing elementary schools in North Carolina.

“A lot of teachers left at that time because there was a lot of uncertainty,” she said. “But in order to stay at Pinkston, you have to have a heart for the children. There are teachers here who have been here for their whole careers.”

The committed teachers transformed the school and its mission, Somerville said.

The school emphasizes college readiness for all grade levels.

One hallway is named college row, which refers to the different college or university represented by each homeroom classroom.

Preparing students for college is also the mission at Henderson Collegiate, which opened in summer 2010 with 100 fourth-grade students.

The school now has about 400 students in fourth through seventh grades, having added about 100 each year. If the grade levels lose students for any reasons, the vacancies can be opened for new applications.

School Leader Eric Sanchez said this year the school received about 60 applications for the 10 spots they were looking to fill in the sixth and seventh grades.

The school has 25 teachers, most of whom were or are from the Teach for America program.

All teachers at Henderson Collegiate adorn their classroom walls with gear from their alma mater.

Caitlin Dietrich, director of development for the school, said the charter school requires all grade levels to take one college trip per year.

“It gives them a real place to visualize, wherever they may choose to go,” she said.

Each class is called “pride,” with the year they will attend college.

Precious Perry, pride of 2019, said she became interested in attending a women’s college after her class visited Spelman College in Atlanta, Ga., when she was in sixth grade.

“I think an all-girls school would let me to focus all my attention on school,” Perry said.

Contact the writer at smansur@hendersondispatch.com.

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