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Student from Swan Quarter first at Pungo Christian Academy to earn high school diploma and associate’s degree

Melody Smith will be reaching new heights this fall as she trades Swan Quarter for Appalachian State University in Boone. The Pungo Christian Academy student is the first private high school student to complete an associate in arts and a criminal justice technology certificate through Beaufort County Community College. She will have earned all these credentials in just four years.

Students at public and private high schools in the region can apply to take free college classes at BCCC starting their junior year through Career and College Promise, a statewide dual-enrollment program. The college is currently outfitting more schools in its service area with broadcast equipment thanks to a rural development grant from the US Department of Agriculture to save students travel time to its main campus.

When Smith found out that she could complete a full associate’s degree, she talked to her parents about pursuing that option.

“I could save money, and Ms. Stacy [Jones] and my mom and dad have been a huge encouragement for me,” she said. Stacy Jones serves as the college liaison for Mattamuskeet Early College High School, Northside High School, Pungo Christian Academy, Ocracoke School and Terra Ceia Christian School.

Smith plans to major in English education and minor in forensic science.

Of the pairing, she said, “I always loved teaching because one of the English teachers I had, she was amazing. And forensic science, I’ve always loved blood-typing and digging deeper into stuff to find out what happened.”

Smith is excited about the opportunity of studying and potentially teaching in the mountains after she finishes at App State. Her graduating class only has six students, so joining a larger class allowed her to interact with some new ideas.

“We got to take a few classes on Beaufort’s campus before COVID hit. Being in a bigger setting and getting to meet new people, it was good for us. I liked it,” she says. This is also a factor in choosing App State.

“I’m looking forward to being able to meet new people and be in a new place, to meet people who are different than what I’m used to,” she says. Smith has lived in the Belhaven area her entire life.

Even after classes went online, she enjoyed discussions with other students in her literature class with English professor Sophronia Knot.

“It’s one of my favorite classes,” she says. “We will start talking to the teacher about which books we’re on. It’s just nice to be able to meet all these people, even though we’re not in person. In a way, you still get this connection as if you were still in class.”

Shifting to online classes had advantages for the busy student.

“I like being on campus and being able to interact with the teachers,” she says, “but it fit into my schedule a lot better because I also work at night, so I’m able to take more classes being online.”

She is a server at Harris Steak and Seafood, which she balances with her four in-person classes at Pungo Christian Academy and her six classes at BCCC. She is also the bookkeeper for the baseball team at Pungo.

“It’s harder than I thought it would be,” she admits about her schedule. “Ms. Stacy as helped me to set it up so it’s not a huge load each semester.”

Smith will finish her final class at BCCC this summer before she heads to App State, where she will start as a junior, skipping her first two years of classes and tuition at the university.

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