RCC to build Mary Ellen Kindley Fitness Trail

RCC, Richmond County Schools to expand Early College High School program 

By Kevin Spradlin

ROCKINGHAM — Richmond Community College is putting its best foot forward to embrace the next 50 years with as much success as its first 50.

A Richmond Community photo Dr. Dale McInnis, the seventh president of Richmond Community College, addresses graduating students last weekend at one of two commencement ceremonies at the Hamlet campus.

A Richmond Community photo
Dr. Dale McInnis, the seventh president of Richmond Community College, addresses graduating students last weekend at one of two commencement ceremonies at the Hamlet campus.

RCC President Dr. Dale McInnis discussed plans Monday night while serving as guest speaker for the Richmond County Historical Society‘s monthly meeting at Rockingham City Hall. The idea, McInnis said, was “just off the drawing board.”

The plan is to build the Mary Ellen Kindley Fitness Trail in honor of the wife of longtime Rockingham Mayor G.R. Kindley. G.R. Kindley has served as co-chair of the steering committee for the Forte Building expansion and president of the foundation’s board of directors.

McInnis said it’d be a walking trail that would have fitness stations placed throughout.

“We took the concept (and) Mr. Kindley liked it,” McInnis said. “We wanted to do something in honor of Mrs. Kindley. We worked out the details … gonna finalize specifics this week.”

The Kindley family will contribute significantly towards the trail but not fund the entire project.

“We’re looking for folks to help be a part of that (and) contribute any way they can,” McInnis said.

McInnis said the fitness trail will be open to the public and expects it to “be a real resource” to campus community members and the general public alike.

Dr. John Stevenson, historical society president, said “if you know Mary Ellen, that fits her to a ‘t’.”

And it could be just the catalyst for physical education-related activities and infrastructure on campus.

“Right now, we don’t have any PE facilities at all,” McInnis said.

But that could soon change. McInnis noted RCC is hiring its first PE instructor to begin this fall. While much of McInnis’ talk was about the school’s history, he took time to emphasize its future.

RCC was chartered as Richmond Technical Institute in 1964 and in the 1966-67 school year boasted 248 students. It was in those early years that Mrs. Pat Franklin, with two young children, decided to return to the classroom. She enrolled in college transfer courses at RTI. She went on to become a teacher and taught McInnis at Ellerbe Junior High School.

Franklin said she returned to school “’cause I liked to learn things.”

Franklin admitted a bit of surprise at her own career path, as becoming a teacher: “I didn’t intend to do when I started.”

But RTI worked for Franklin as it has for so many thousands of others over the past five decades. In the last 10 years alone, McInnis said enrollment has increased 71 percent. A chart accompanying his presentation illustrated periods of growth in enrollment for RCC, which aligned with constructions projects that created additional space for students and faculty.

“The big increase has been since 2007 and you can see (it) leveling off a little bit this past year,” McInnis said to a crowd of some two dozen. “Again, mostly due to space. We pretty much had to cap out our classes. You can almost map out the construction and addition of new buildings.”

Due to space constraints, RCC conducted two graduation ceremonies last weekend to accommodate all of the students and family members. A year ago, McInnis said, students were limited to only two tickets. This year, each student received up to eight tickets.

“We had a tremendous, all-day event,” he said.

McInnis and colleages at RCC seek to increase the rate of enrollment and graduating even more. McInnis announced that Richmond County Schools and RCC were joining forces to expand Early College High School for Richmond County students beginning with the 2014-15 academic year.

“We’re going to be, thanks to the cooperation and support of the Richmond County Schools, expanding Early College High School. I challenged the principal this year where we could come up with a plan” to boost enrollment to 75 students from its current limit of 50.

McInnis said the program accepted 162 applications last year but could accept only 50 students. Another first, McInnis said, was that now students will be bused from Richmond Senior High School to the Hamlet campus “to take not only college transfer classes as part of their schedule, but also technical classes.”

The idea seems rather simple though perhaps complex in execution.

“They’re free college classes,” McInnis said. “You can’t lose with a free college class. We want every kid here to be able to take advantage of it.”

Those enrolled at RCC, he said, are “real students doing real work getting ready for real jobs. And that’s what we’re trying to focus on.”

Early College High School is a program in which advanced students are afforded the opportunity to graduate high school while at the same time earning a two-year community college degree.

“And the two-year degree is at no cost (to students),” McInnis said. “All fees are waived.”

And in neighboring Scotland County, the Early College High School program became a national model, perhaps, when transportation costs forced the move of the program to private St. Andrews University. The move saved some $350,000 and became “a great model of how we can leverage all of our assets for the betterment of our children.”

Such partnership between a private university, a public community college and a public school system, McInnis said, “doesn’t exist anywhere else” in the country.

Along with existing programs at RCC, including Electricty Utility Substation and Relay Technology and Health Information Technology, the campus is adding new programs this fall, including Dialysis Technology and Mechatronics Engineering Technology.

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