The STEM Early College at N.C. A&T has been named a STEM School of Distinction, the highest designation for science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) education.

The N.C. Science, Mathematics and Technology (SMT) Education Center made the announcement last month. The A&T Early College was one of only 13 schools in the state to receive the designation.

The school is in its third year. It has 150 students in grades 9-11. This year’s juniors will become the school’s first senior class next year. A new ninth grade class will bring the school to capacity for the first time. It is operated by the Guilford County Schools system.

For the early college’s juniors and seniors, high school is over. They become full-0time A&T students, focusing on one of three STEM pathways: biomedical sciences, renewable energy or engineering. They will graduate with a high school diploma and two years of college credit from A&T.

The current juniors are the first class to become full-time A&T students. At the midpoint of the semester, more than half had all A’s and B’s.

“All of them are enrolled in Calculus I or Calculus II and either chemistry or biology,” says Stacey Alston, the school’s principal. He graduated from A&T in 1999, majoring in business education.

The early college received just over 200 applications for 50 openings this year. Still, competition for the best students is intense.

“We’re a magnet school, and the recognition will definitely assist in recruiting some of the top students in Guilford County,” Alston said. “Being that the Early College at Guilford College is ranked number one in the state, we have to have overcome that challenge somehow, and I think this does it.”

The honor also sends a message to the community. Alston noted that before the school opened, Chancellor Harold L. Martin, Sr., and Guilford County Superintendent Maurice Green raised more than $1 million from the community to help get it started.

“This says to those stakeholders, ‘We take this opportunity seriously, and we didn’t waste your money. We are really trying to produce some of the best students in the nation,’” Alston says.

The STEM Schools of Distinction is one of the country’s most rigorous evaluation programs for identifying and recognizing exemplary STEM schools. To apply, schools submitted lesson plans, video evidence, class samples, and recommendation letters. Nationally known educators, business leaders and other experts led the review teams, evaluated the applicants, and held site visits.