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The North Carolina Teacher Project is a year-long look at the teaching profession, told through in-depth feature stories, comprehensive policy discussions on The State of Things, intimate conversations between students and teachers, and multimedia presentations. More background on this series is available here. Check out our The Teachers' Room Blog on Tumblr.These reports are part of American Graduate - Let’s Make it Happen! - a public media initiative to address the drop out crisis, supported by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

When A School And A Marriage Are The Same Thing

Carice Sanchez
Dave DeWitt

For many, teaching is a calling. For others, like Eric and Carice Sanchez, it’s something a little more than that.

“It’s during the honeymoon during the early morning, getting up and checking to make sure the loan went through,” said Eric Sanchez, the co-founder and school leader at Henderson Collegiate. “But I guess those are the funny pieces that add to the story and add to the merger of a school and a relationship.”

Eric and Carice Sanchez needed the loan to start their charter school in Vance County, about an hour north of Durham. She’s from Cleveland; he’s from New York. They first met as Teach For America teachers. They were both placed in Henderson, living in the same apartment complex, and teaching in the public schools. Ten years later, they’re back in Henderson - married and running their own school.

“You know, they’re a force, they’re a force to be reckoned with,” said Emily Cirino, a 7th-grade teacher at the school. “Eric has a really clear vision for what he wants from a school. Carice is just an awesome resource in terms of instructional prowess. She’s an expert in reading and literacy. So together it’s that two-headed monster that sort of drives the school.”

Eric and Carice first had the idea to open their own school while teaching in traditional public schools. They watched students of theirs make progress, only to fall back when they left their classrooms.

“It was disheartening, seeing some of the kids we taught, and then a couple years later, maybe not with that same light, or not talking passionately about books, like they did in our classroom,” said Carice Sanchez.

So Carice and Eric thought if they controlled every aspect of the students’ experience in every grade, that light might not go out. It meant a huge personal and professional commitment – from writing their own curriculum to pulling all-nighters to making sure the mobile classrooms were in place and ready. They also had to convince parents to trust them with their kids.

“I love the fact that they stand out there and they shake these kids hands in the morning,” said Tonya Ragland-Catlett, a federal corrections officer and parent of two kids at Henderson Collegiate. “All it takes is a smile for a person a day to make a change in them. I love to see them standing out there and give the children some kind of hope in the morning when they get here.”

About the school

Henderson Collegiate has 400 students in 4th thru 7th grades and is adding a grade every year. It’s academically rigorous and based on the KIPP model of high expectations for at-risk students – that means longer school days and years, uniforms, and a strict adherence to academic goals.

It’s not for every kid, and turnover at some KIPP schools is high (pdf). But it works for those who possess at least some internal motivation.

Eric Sanchez
Credit Dave DeWitt
Eric Sanchez, the co-founder and director of Henderson Collegiate, assists a student during lunch.

  “Nothing but my best is expected, so my teachers, if I’m not giving my all, then they are going to push me to my full potential because they know I can do better than what I am doing,” said 7th grader Ashiwa Jefferson. “Because, I’m the type that, if the challenge is not thrown at me then I’m not going to do it.”

In the three-and-a-half years it’s been around, Henderson Collegiate students have done better than their peers in Vance County and across the state on standardized tests. And the longer their stay at the school, the better the scores. 85 percent of students here qualify for free and reduced price lunch – and unlike at some charters, Henderson Collegiate serves meals and has a bus system.

More services for students translates into less personal time for the Sanchezes. But, they say, that’s OK…

“It’s funny though, when you try to separate the conversation, a half-hour later you make some connection. Doesn’t matter who it is,” said Eric Sanchez. “You’ll see somebody who reminds you of a student, and suddenly that segues into school culture and what we want out of our kids.”

'For you and your husband to share the same exact passion is pretty unique and special.' -Carice Sanchez

Adds Carice Sanchez: “For you and your husband to share the same exact passion is pretty unique and special.”

Eric and Carice now have an infant son. That means the family/work balance is going to get even more complicated. But like they often do, they have a long-term solution.

In five years, they say, their son will be walking the halls of their new planned – and permanent – Henderson Collegiate building… as a kindergartner.

These reports are part of American Graduate-Let’s Make it Happen!- a public media initiative to address the drop out crisis, supported by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

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