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McDowell Students Becomes "Cyber Student" at NC School of Science and Math

From the McDowell News:

Local teen a 'cyber student' at School of Science and Math

September 19, 2011

By Britt Combs

A McDowell teenager is blazing a new trail in science education. Nebo's Courtney Buchanan is now studying at the North Carolina School of Science and Math (NCSSM) from the comfort of McDowell High School and her home.

It's a big deal to be admitted to this most exclusive of public academies. Founded in 1980 in Durham, the NCSSM is a public, residential high school where juniors and seniors study a specialized curriculum emphasizing science and mathematics. Admission guidelines to the school's charter specify that an equal number of students must be admitted from each of the state's congressional districts. There are 325 students on campus this year, including two from MHS, according to McDowell High Principal Ben Talbert.

More recently, the school has added the option of online education. The courses and tests and instructors are the same as those offered on campus, a rigorous program indeed.

On Wednesday morning The McDowell News visited Buchanan in McDowell High School's "virtual classroom," a computer lab set aside for students taking online classes. The room was abuzz with activity, with students pursuing a variety of courses from a variety of institutions. Instructor, test proctor and facilitator Todd Buckner said the room and its equipment were expanded over the summer to allow more kids to work at a time.

There are students studying Chinese, Latin and French through the N.C. Virtual High School, kids studying German at Oklahoma State University, still others taking various Huskins Bill classes through McDowell Tech.

And back in the corner is Buchanan, immersed in biotechnology lessons.

"I started the Monday before (MHS) classes started," she said. "This semester I'm taking genetics and biotechnology and this spring I'll take medical chemistry." She said the lessons, including tests and lectures are archived and interactive, meaning she can attend the class any time, even at night, and is not bound to a class schedule.   

"We've studied the basics of DNA and how DNA works., where humans originated and the earlier forms of humans. We've studied Neanderthals and Denisovians." She said she finds self-directed study easy.

"It's easy for me," she said. "I'm not a procrastinator."

Pop quiz time: Who discovered DNA?

"Watson and Crick," she answered. Google confirmed her answer, so she already knows more about the genetic sciences than the average McDowell News reporter. 

Buchanan is a high school junior and naturally she is uncertain about her future, both academic and professional, but she's sure it will be technical.

"It's changed about three times," she said. "Three weeks ago I wanted to do medical research but now I'm leaning toward genetics. After starting this class I absolutely love it."

The daughter of Stacy and Malcolm Buchanan, Courtney also plays softball. She said she has a consistent 63 mph pitch.

Students enrolled in NCSSM online may devote a class period to it, but are not required to. They can do their studies after school, which would give them time for one more elective in the high school day.

Current sophomores whose parent or guardian live in North Carolina can apply to the residential school, for the online school or both. Applications for 2012-12 school year are due by Jan. 15, 2012.

Courses offered include physics, environmental geology, forensic science, politics, calculus and more.

The school offers summer programs, such as the NCSSM Summer Symposium, a one-week on-campus collaborative study for rising seniors and Summer ventures in Science and Mathematics. For more information see your school's guidance counselor or visit online at