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NCSSM online: One student’s balancing act

At MOD Pizza in Fayetteville, the cashier asks a question Konstance Woods hears often: “Are you from Lumberton?”

Woods and her family, who are members of the Lumbee tribe, moved from Lumberton to Fayetteville when she was in the sixth grade for better schools and wider opportunities for her and her little brother. One of those opportunities was the North Carolina School of Science and Math’s online program. But whether she is out getting pizza or talking with classmates at Jack Britt High School, Woods is reminded of the difference less than an hour drive can make.

“Everyone thinks I’m from Texas because of my accent, but really (Lumberton) is just 45 minutes away,” she says. Woods feels somewhat connected to her hometown and says she misses the “everyone knows everyone” feel. She returns every Friday at 2:30 to get her hair done, because she claims, “No one in Fayetteville knows how to do Lumbee hair.” 

But mostly, Woods is grateful her family made the move. She loves how much more diverse Fayetteville is, and how many different things she has done since arriving. 

“This is a whole different atmosphere, a whole different world,” Woods says walking through the crowded halls of her school.

Woods’s involvement in her school and community is one of the main reasons she chose to take online NCSSM courses, which require an application process as rigorous as the school’s residential program. She considers herself “the most involved student at Jack Britt.”

Woods says since she has already moved and lives in a transitory military town where everyone is constantly moving, she also did not want to deal with the move to Durham.

“All my friends already move as it is, and I really can’t take it,” Woods says. “So I wanna stay here.”

She says she knows she would not have access to the kinds of classes NCSSM offers without the online program and is always looking for ways to do more.

Woods is a junior, and it is spring, which means AP exams are right around the corner. Woods is taking five AP exams. 

In AP computer science, Woods and her friend discuss who is going and where they will eat before prom. They are nervous because they have waited until the last minute to figure everything out. 

“Our misery is gonna be over very very soon,” Kerry Humphrey, the computer science teacher says, joking with the students while going over AP practice problems. Woods asks for help on a few — there is a section on recursive calls she missed because she was at a leadership conference. 

Woods is not struggling too much, though. Humphrey hands back practice exams and says if you got a 45 percent or more, you should pass the AP exam. Woods smiles. She got a 68 percent. She explains that she has taken classes on other coding languages — C++ and Python — at Fayetteville State University. 

When Humphrey hands out homework for the night, Konstance wonders out loud, “When will I do this?” She figures, “at, like 2 in the morning, or tomorrow morning in a different class.”

 Woods has only an hour after school for homework. Woods says she is the first junior at Jack Britt who received permission to leave before fourth period for a college French course on certain days of the week. But today, she drives home during fourth period and sits on her couch doing a worksheet. 

“Sometimes I take naps during this time,” Woods says, “but I try not to.” She mentions she only got a couple hours of sleep last night. 

Stress is a part of Woods’s life about which she speaks openly. She says she is “always stressed out,” that sometimes she is driven to tears because of everything she has going on, including NCSSM courses. 

“You have to be dedicated,” Woods says. “I don’t know how many times I’ve stayed up all night for group projects and other things.”

But she is learning how to juggle everything. She says her NCSSM courses, biomedical engineering and forensic science, have helped her learn time management skills. The online courses have taught her how to stay on track without much teacher oversight. 

Since her first year of high school, Woods has had her eyes set on High Point University. She visited the campus and fell in love. She wants to double-major in entrepreneurship and accounting, and double-minor in computer science and economics. She is hoping to get into the university’s Junior Scholars Program, awarded to students “for their strong, demonstrated interest in HPU, exceptional academic achievement, leadership and remarkable extracurricular involvement,” according to their website. Woods says she is nervous to hear back in the summer.

“It’s such a long wait,” she says.

After Key Club, she is off to a meeting back at Jack Britt for Key Club, a community service organization made up of about 300 students. Woods is vice president this year. She admits that she wanted to be president but decided to just hold more leadership positions.  

The club officers meet with a teacher in her classroom and go over collecting materials and logging community service hours. That takes around 30 minutes before she grabs dinner at MOD and heads to a meeting for the Fayetteville-Cumberland Youth Council. Woods is the council’s secretary and was recently chosen as the secretary for the statewide youth council as well.

Crystal Glover, the council’s advisor, says Woods is “one of her favorites.” She assigns Woods a write-up on the group’s trip to Pittsburgh a couple months ago. The council is preparing for a presentation for community leaders, town council members, and county commissioners. They rehearse their speaking parts, how they will walk in, how they will stand, when they will clap.

Woods leaves before the meeting is done since she has to be home by 8 p.m. for her biomedical engineering weekly webinar. Her mother, Samantha Woods, is burning incense when she gets home. “Konstance thinks it smells like she’s walking through a burning forest,” she says. 

Woods takes her laptop into a room set up like an office, shuts the doors, and logs in to Canvas, the online platform where her NCSSM courses exist. The teacher is visible in a little square in the top right corner of the screen, sitting at home in front of his computer. He gives the students some problems and breaks them up into groups to solve them.

Woods scribbles on a sheet of paper, types to share her answer in a group chat, and realizes she got something different than the group. She works to find what she did wrong until she arrives at the answer that matches her classmates’ answer. 

After 30 minutes of working on the problem, the class comes back together and the teacher asks a member of each group to walk through how they got their answer. Woods says the teacher really expects you to go teach yourself most things through daily PowerPoints and modules. 

When asked why she pushes herself so hard, with independent learning in NCSSM courses, with leadership roles and conferences — and a job at Aeropostale along with shadowing a town council member on Thursdays and Fridays and a plan to become vice chair of the National Honors Society— Woods says simply, “I’m a perfectionist. I literally just want to be the best I can.”

Editor’s Note: This article is the second of a three-part series. Learn about the NCSSM online program here

Liz Bell

Liz Bell is the early childhood reporter for EducationNC.