Tri-County Early College High School Executive Summary


Tri-County Early College enters its fourteenth year of existence in 2019-20.  Project-Based Learning (PBL), with a STEM focus, is the basis for all instruction.  TCEC is known for innovative instruction and as a place where students use non-traditional methods to address curriculum requirements and to develop the “survivor skills” that are so critical in today’s global economy – skills such as collaboration, critical thinking, agility & adaptability, initiative & entrepreneurship, oral & written communication, accessing & analyzing information, and curiosity & imagination. It is our mission to create an atmosphere where all learning is student-driven, inquiry-based, and meets the needs of all academic abilities. 

So what is PBL?  It is a rigorous, systematic, and proven approach that is built upon authentic learning activities that focus on relentless student engagement.   The activities are designed to be interesting and motivational, allowing students to answer driving questions or solve problems in a manner that reflects the type of work people do in the “real world” outside of the classroom.  In this environment, students work in collaborative groups toward a common goal to encounter (and often struggle with!) the fundamental concepts of a specific discipline or curriculum area. Students are also given the chance to frequently reflect upon their own performance and ideas, and as they do, are able to exercise choice in how they accomplish the goals of a specific project.  Student performance is then assessed on an individual basis, taking into account the quality of the products produced, the depth of demonstrated content knowledge, and the contributions made to their specific project team.  Finally, as students work in such a PBL environment, the traditional aspects of STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) are expanded to become Strategies that Engage Minds, thus teaching students real 21st century skills, as well as a deeper and richer appreciation of the content.  This engagement is the true power of PBL and the driving force behind the success of TCEC’s current students and past graduates.

Tri-County Early College is also a place where students can earn the entire 60+ hours of credit needed to obtain an Associate’s Degree in College Transfer while in high school.  Last year’s graduating seniors earned an average of 69.5 college credit hours, the equivalent of two years toward a Bachelor’s Degree at a four-year university.  22 out of 29 earned a degree or a certificate from Tri-County Community College while simultaneously receiving their high school diplomas.  TCEC’s high school graduation rate in 2018 was 100% with a school report card grade of A.

TCEC is purposefully small, enrolling only 40 students per year for a maximum of 160 students.  That small number allows us to support our students who are targeted for enrollment based upon lower socioeconomic backgrounds, underserved minority groups, and, in general, anyone who for any reason might not graduate from high school or attend college.  Our school system just secured a grant from the NC Department of Instruction that will provide $20 million for a new facility on the campus of Tri-County Community College that will house Tri-County Early College, The Oaks Academy Alternative School, and a new Career Academy that will provide Vocational Training in partnership with TCCC for all students in Cherokee County.  That new facility will allow TCEC to grow to 200 students and provide more opportunities for our students to take technical programs they currently cannot access.  We are excited about this progress and ecstatic to finally have the space and facility we need.