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NCSSM online: Passionate about community, reaching for more

For Alex Adler, a junior at The Oakwood School in Greenville and an online student at the North Carolina School of Science and Math, community is important.

His class is made up of only 30 or so students, and his high school is a short walk from the K-8 building which his younger siblings attend.

This tight-knit school is more like a family. Every teacher seems to know every student, and all the students know each other well. The high-schoolers collaborate with the K-8 students often.

This is partly why Adler found NCSSM’s online program appealing. “I didn’t want to leave,” Adler said. “I have a lot of ties to Greenville with sports, family, volunteerism. I wasn’t ready to basically go off to college for six years in a row.”

Adler sees the online NCSSM courses as an extra piece of his education at Oakwood. He loves the people at his school and the freedom the teachers give to their students. NCSSM courses are like a bonus.

That way, Adler says, “I’m not stressed about taking classes that I have to take to get credit. I’m taking classes I’m genuinely interested in.”

Since Adler is in the middle of AP exams, he has a practice essay in AP Language, a full period of AP Calculus practice problems, and a light-hearted post-exam AP Psychology class. 

The psychology class plays a “would you rather” game with some questions more relevant than others. Would you rather lose your memory up to this point or have short-term memory loss starting now? Would you rather marry for love or money? Would you rather live in the past or the future? Would you restart your life if you could?

Adler sits in the back and chimes in occasionally. He would rather be smart and unhappy than dumb and carefree. He laughs at his classmates saying they want trophy wives and bringing up the Kardashians and Honey Boo-Boo. 

Adler has many roles in the community he calls home. His experience is not dissimilar from others who choose NCSSM online — they are rooted in a sense of place and purpose but want opportunities beyond those places. He is a dedicated student, currently taking four AP courses. He plays soccer and tennis for Oakwood and is on a club soccer team. He played viola in the school orchestra for years but now plays in groups around town when he gets the chance. 

The thing Adler is most excited about, though, is the non-profit organization he founded and runs, called Chickens for Children. His first pitch for chickens is that they are a productive pet. 

“They eat anything; they give you eggs; they fertilize your lawn,” he says. He owns chickens at home and wanted to let other know about their amazing qualities. The desire turned into educating kids and families about farming, nutrition, and environmental sustainability. 

Adler has given talks to the younger kids at Oakwood and community centers for low-income Greenville residents. 

“A lot of kids think their breakfast is a McDonald’s meal, or chips and a coke from a gas station,” he says. “They don’t realize that nutrition is important.”

His goal is to distribute a chicken, a coop, supplies, and instructions to as many families in the community as he can.

“I want to educate others on the importance of sustainability and child development, healthy relationships, and healthy lifestyles,” he says.

As Adler says, NCSSM is a supplement to both his academics and his other interests. In his fall online course in computational science, Adler chose to do his final project on how stress hormones affect the production of eggs. He gathered data from online resources and had to contact a couple scientists. He then ran his own computational experiments with that information and interpreted his results.  

“To actually see the science behind that, and the genetics of what specific gene causes an increase of this stress hormone, which then leads to less productivity, that was really interesting to research,” he says. 

Adler is part of a group of students running a small farm beside the K-8 Oakwood building, including a hydroponic greenhouse and a chicken coop. After school and before tennis practice, Adler sits in a meeting in a small bodega.

They have contracted with a company to get them started, and a man named Courtney tells the students what timers need to be set for certain frequencies, when the door for the greenhouse can be left open, and how often they can harvest. So far, they have 127 heads of lettuce. They are hoping to sell their produce at farmer’s markets and to local restaurants.

“What about bees?” Adler says after raising his hand. He volunteers to bring bees he has at home, with the help of his mom, to pollinate inside the greenhouse. “Yeah, that’d be great,” Courtney says. 

Adler says that although he is strongly connected to Greenville, he feels like a true part of NCSSM. He went to a summer “accelerator” camp last year at the Durham campus and has attended online weekends. In his honors civil and environmental engineering class this semester, his class tested real-life bridges and did an analysis of a local river that was flooded. In the fall, he worked with a supercomputer located in Pittsburgh. Next year, he plans on going to NCSSM’s prom.

“Even though it seems I’d feel very distant and separated, I do feel included,” he says.

Adler has his eyes set on Princeton and Harvard and is undecided on a course of study, debating between engineering and business. He says NCSSM has taught him how to manage his time wisely and get the most out of everything.

“I would say I’m pretty busy,” Adler says, “It’s taught me to manage my time and take advantage of any free time I have.” He adds that even if he’s riding in the car, he is usually working.

Editor’s note: This is the third in a three-part series on the NCSSM online program.

Liz Bell

Liz Bell is the early childhood reporter for EducationNC.