Parents, students worry changes to Horry County academy could cost them thousands of dollars

Scholars Academy protest

HORRY COUNTY, S.C. (WMBF) - Parents and students gathered in front of a Horry County academy Wednesday afternoon to speak about why they hope that school leaders don’t change a program that they say isn’t broken.

The students who are enrolled in the Scholars Academy program have all attended other schools through the district such as Saint James, Carolina Forest, and Socastee prior to applying to be a part of the program.

Currently, around 50 students are accepted each year into the program, but they remain a part of their original school, which is considered their base school, so they can play sports, be a part of clubs, and attend school functions.

But on a day-to-day basis, they attend the Scholars Acadamy which is on the Coastal Carolina University campus and allows high school students to receive a higher education before graduating college.

The new proposal would cut all ties between the students and their school and some say this would cause students across the county to be less likely to receive thousands of dollars worth of scholarships.

Halie Hightower is a sophomore and said she hopes to be a genetic researcher or a marine biologist one day and believes this program is set up to reach that goal.

“I’m taking classes that seniors are taking at my base school or will take in college and I’m in classes with 26-year-olds in college," Hightower said. “The academics here are rigorous, a lot of homework and a lot of late-nights.”

Paul Richardson said both of his children have attended the program. His oldest son graduated in 2018 and is currently enrolled in an engineering program and is already classified academically as a senior.

He said the main difference is the learning environment.

“The first week he came home from school, he said ‘Dad, I finally found a place where I fit’ and that’s what a lot of these kids are, they fit. They fit here, this is the right environment for them. Because of that lack of competition they are really able to thrive here and take what they are learning and expand on it even more," Richardson said.

Scot Wisler said all four of his children have been a part of the academy. One of them recently graduated. He said his son graduated high school with more than 70 college credits and was able to enter college as a junior in an engineering program.

“Most of the students who go through the academy will walk away with 70-75 credits that are eligible for other schools,” Wisler, said.

To put that into perspective, the U.S. Department of Education says the average cost of each college credit hour is $594. Meaning students could receive upwards of $44,625 worth of college credit for free and before finishing high school.

If the Scholars Academy was to become its own school, it would change the way class rank is determined and change who is eligible for scholarships.

“That’s really what we need to focus on is we could be talking about tens of thousands of dollars of scholarship loss for these students,” Richardson said.

Parents said this would not just affect these students but thousands more.

“I feel like in 10-15 years if this proposal was to pass, scholars would not be the same if it’s even around anymore," Halie’s mother, Stephanie Hightower, said.

The proposal that would change the way the program works will be voted on at the next Horry County School Board meeting on October 7.

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