• A Passion for Education and Social Justice

    Wake Early College graduate AJ Peterson in her cap and gown

    Student: Aliya “A.J.” Peterson

    School: Wake Early College of Health and Sciences

    College: University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

    June 6, 2018

    Going to a small high school was just the ticket for Aliya “A.J.” Peterson, who graduated as valedictorian of the Wake Early College of Health and Sciences on May 24.

    Quite the ticket, indeed. She has earned a $10,000-per-year Polk Scholarship to the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. And she’ll start classes there with both Associate in Arts and Associate in Science degrees already under her belt.

    Neurosurgery or Social Justice?

    A.J. chose Wake Early College initially with thoughts of one day becoming a neurosurgeon. But while she enjoyed the health and science offerings, it turned out that her history and sociology courses – combined with her increasing interest in current events – informed a dramatic departure in her college and career pursuits.

    “I would say sociology was really eye-opening. I didn’t realize how deep the problems in our society run,” she said. “Watching the news and seeing all the political turbulence made me interested in law.”

    So, A.J.’s plan is to study economics at UNC, then go to law school. She is interested in promoting the causes of social justice as a career, perhaps as a trial lawyer or even as a judge.

    “It’s not that I don’t like the idea of medical science, it’s just that I’m into something else now.”

    'Every public school should be like this'

    That “something else” includes a passion for ensuring that everyone has access to a good education, regardless of where they come from. And Wake Early College was a great example.

    “I felt like every public school should be like this,” she said. “I personally feel like education should be the ultimate (leveling) of the playing field.”

    A.J. wasn’t initially sold on the idea of attending Wake Early College rather than a traditional high school.

    “The first two years, it was really intense; it was an adjustment. There was a lot of homework, and I’m a procrastinator,” she said with a slight roll of the eyes and a grin.

    Hitting Her Stride

    Soon, however, she realized her choice was beginning to pay off and she hit her stride. Especially when she was able to start taking college courses at the Wake Technical Community College North Campus.

    “There was a lot of freedom,” A.J. said of her last two years at Wake Early College. “The small size of the school in general helped us connect to the teachers and made us feel less uncomfortable about going to them for help.”

    The small class sizes also have helped her form bonds with her classmates. Both as friends and study partners with whom she has learned to work collaboratively around assignments and projects.

    “We all had the same classes and assignments the first two years, so we basically did everything together, so it helped relieve a lot of the burden of the work,” she said.

    Creativity and Collaboration

    Great teachers who taught in a creative manner helped, too. Particularly in history, where her teacher had A.J. and her classmates “become” a U.S. president from the past for each of two semesters.

    The idea was to embark upon a mock campaign, including writing and giving speeches and debating issues. Their challenge was to make the case for winning, regardless of what their political leanings might be.

    A.J. chose Andrew Jackson and was assigned Richard Nixon. Even though she said her two presidential personas “had nothing to go on,” she gave it her all.

    She won both mock elections.

    AJ Peterson in the library, one of her favorite places  

    Fun Experience, Great Decision

    In addition to a great education, A.J. said her high school experience has turned out to be fun. And two years of free college doesn’t hurt.

    “I’ve made friends that I’m sure I will have for a long time,” she said. “I’m really happy I made the decision to come here.”


More About Wake Early College of Health and Sciences

The Wake Early College of Health and Sciences provides opportunities to explore careers in the health and sciences through partnerships with Wake Tech, and WakeMed Health and Hospital.  This four- or five-year high school program allows students to earn their high school diploma and an Associate degree, college transfer credit and prerequisite courses to prepare for a health sciences degree or certificate - all tuition free.  

Students follow a rigorous high school program of honors classes for the first two years and are dual-enrolled in Wake Tech courses the remaining years.

The application period for the 2019-20 school year will open in mid-October 2018.