The first senior class at York County’s first public charter school is leaving a lasting impression.
On Friday, 51 students will receive their diplomas at York Preparatory Academy on Eastview Road in western Rock Hill.
A series of eight York County public high school commencement exercises over the next three days begins at 7 p.m. Thursday, when Clover High School will award diplomas to 440 graduates at Winthrop Coliseum.
The York Prep seniors have earned a collective $2.5 million in college scholarships, and many have already earned college course credit through dual enrollment at York Technical College or through advance placement courses.
Their academic success “validates what we are doing,” said T.K. Kennedy, the academy’s high school principal.
The seniors also got to set the standards for senior classes to follow. They held the school’s first junior-senior prom and the first senior day. They also established the privileges of a junior-senior lounge and driving to school.
“They did a fabulous job of setting standards,” Kennedy said. “We gave them their independence to help them prepare for college. ... It was great to watch them grasp that.”
The soon-to-be Patriot alumni also helped turn one of Kennedy’s ideas into a reality for themselves and students to come: silhouettes of graduating students painted on the school’s hallway walls.
At first, some students thought the idea was crazy. But as they embraced it, they saw the chance to leave a bit of their personality at York Prep.
James Carpenter, who wants to study homeland security and work for the Secret Service, saluted in his silhouette.
Jacob Archer made sure his silhouette was near the classroom where his mother teaches math so she could always see him.
Joshua Mugabe posed with a waving hand, not sure if it was a hello or goodbye wave.
The hope is that as more senior classes graduate York Prep, their silhouettes will be added to the walls.
Even if their silhouettes are eventually painted over, the Class of 2015 helped establish a legacy of York Prep as a family, students and teachers said.
With 320 high school students this year, everyone at YPA not only knows your name, but whether you are having a good or bad day, students said Wednesday.
While the atmosphere may not be for everyone, students and teachers say, it has helped York Prep students realize their potential.
Archer came to York Prep from Nation Ford High School in Fort Mill.
“I was a pea in an ocean” at Nation Ford, Archer said. “The first day at York Prep I felt more comfortable around people.”
Archer leaves York Prep as its first valedictorian. As of Wednesday he had not written his speech, but he promised something that’s “meaningful and deeply profound,” a promise that got laughs from his friends.
He plans to attend Clemson.
Carpenter came to York Prep after being home-schooled. The first day he walked into an English class, people asked him, “Who are you; what are your plans.”
“I felt uncomfortable,” he said. “But I needed to break out of that and I did.”
Carpenter’s initial plans were to become a lawyer. But attending a Close Up Foundation seminar in Washington, D.C., through York Prep “opened” him to national security. He plans to study national security at Coastal Carolina.
Ashley Ward moved to Rock Hill from Tennessee for her senior year. Most would-be seniors would balk at such a move, but Ward immersed herself at York Prep. “It wasn’t scary,” she said.
She balanced academics with extracurricular activities and multiple jobs, say her teachers. She plans to attended Charleston Southern with a goal of working as an FBI agent.
Mugabe knew some of the York Prep students before he transferred to the school because they were teammates on Discoveries Soccer Club teams.
Mugabe, like other York Prep students, was given the chance to improve his passions.
“I like to talk,” he said. At York Prep, talking became public speaking and poetry. This year he won the South Carolina Poetry Out Loud competition, which earned him a trip to Washington, D.C., to compete in the national finals.
Mugabe said he hopes to turn his public speaking skills into a political career, but not before earning a business degree from Winthrop University. “You have to be good in business to raise the money for politics,” he said.
Before graduation, though, the students have one question they want answered.
They want Ray Tyler, U.S. history and government teacher, to explain a statement he has often made in his classes: “Some days you are a pigeon, and other days you are a statue.”
Mugabe said he and his classmates have been guessing the meaning all year, but so far Tyler hasn’t disclosed anything.
Tyler said he will explain his running joke at Thursday’s senior day, but on Friday it will be back to teaching. Tyler, who will deliver a graduation speech, said it will have a lesson for his students on how they should live their lives.
Don Worthington • 803-329-4066
Want to go?
York Preparatory Academy’s first senior class graduates at 6 p.m. Friday at the school, 1047 Golden Gate Court.