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K-2 Tar Heels: UNC opens elementary laboratory school in Roxboro

The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and Person County Schools held a ribbon cutting ceremony to open the Carolina Community Academy on Thursday, August 25 at North Elementary School in Roxboro, N.C.. In this image, UNC Chancellor Kevin M. Guskiewicz makes remarks. Photo Courtesy of Jon Gardiner/UNC-Chapel Hill.

UNC and Person County Schools held a ribbon-cutting ceremony last Thursday to mark the opening of Carolina Community Academy (CCA), a K-2 school within North Elementary School located in Roxboro, N.C. 

In 2016, the state legislature passed a law mandating the UNC Board of Governors to establish eight laboratory schools in low-performing schools around the state. 

Fouad Abd-El-Khalick, the dean of the School of Education, said that CCA is now a unit of the University and efforts are led by the UNC School of Education.

“Lab schools are a collaboration between a certain campus through the School of Education and a local school district,” he said. 

Six lab schools in the state were developed in 2016 and 2017, and last year the UNC System was asked to establish three more – CCA being the ninth and final school. 

Only kindergarten classes are available for the first year, according to UNC Media Relations. The following year, first grade classes will open, and second grade the year after that.

Abd-El-Khalick said the school expects approximately 45 kindergartners in the upcoming year, estimating 130 students when the school is opened to its full capacity.

CCA will be directly linked to the University, so teachers at the school will be employees of UNC and K-2 students will be considered UNC students. 

“The students in the lab school are Tar Heels; they're Chapel Hill students,” Abd-El-Khalick said. 

Although CCA is embedded within North Elementary School, which is part of Person County Schools, the lab school's district will be considered UNC-CH — the only other school within the district.

“UNC-Chapel Hill now becomes a school district with one school,” Abd-El-Khalick said. 

He said that this collaboration will be mutually beneficial, with the University also learning from the school partnership. CCA will be a site of training and internships for University students learning education, counseling, psychology and social work. 

“The lab school also is a place for UNC-Chapel Hill and the School of Education to build places to train future professionals,” he said. 

The CCA will provide wraparound services, meaning support for students and families outside of the classroom. 

“Schools exist in communities; they exist in circumstances and realities,” Abd-El-Khalick said. 

Takeima Ricks, a kindergarten teacher, is very familiar with the community that North Elementary School serves. She has taught there for 21 years and will begin her 22nd year as a teacher at CCA. 

Ricks said that although there will be changes to her class, she will still be working with families she has become familiar with throughout her time at North Elementary School. 

"I’m excited about the services and opportunities that my students will be offered," she said. 

Students will have access to UNC Health, Carolina Dentistry and many other aspects of the UNC campus. The classes will take monthly field trips to campus starting in October, Ricks said. 

The curriculum in classes will be changing structurally and the school will have cross-curricular units with social studies and science integrated into reading and math lessons, according to Ricks. 

Emily Bivins, the CCA startup director, got involved with the academy last fall. She said she is excited for CCA to be able to connect the University’s vast resources with students who need them, and to use these resources to prepare the student for school beyond second grade. 

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“I hope that they have the readiness skills, and thinking about all domains of development, not just their academic readiness,” Bivins said. 

According to Bivins, other domains of development that the school will focus on include students' literacy and health readiness, gross and fine motor, as well as social and emotional readiness. 

When asked about plans for this lab school or others, Bivins said that there is a process that UNC must follow as CCA develops. 

Other universities have added another lab school after five years have passed, so UNC will evaluate in the coming years whether they want to open a second lab school or expand the current one.

“We're really excited about this — as a campus and as a school of education — about serving the public. It's just an amazing opportunity for us to partner with a rural district here and bring our expertise to this partnership,” Abd-El-Khalick said.